Spellling: The Turning Wheel
Vinyl | CD | Cassette | DL
The Turning Wheel is the self-produced third album by San Francisco Bay Area experimental pop alchemist, Spellling. Andy Brown delves into the album and shares his thoughts for Louder Than War.
Spellling aka Chrystia Cabral knows how to create magic. Not the kind of cheap tricks and misdirection you might expect from an entertainer at a kids party (do kids still have magicians at parties?) but genuine musical magic in the mould of such well-loved pop alchemists as Kate Bush. It almost seems like a journalistic cliché to invoke Kate Bush the second a female artist attempts something flamboyant yet listen closely to The Turning Wheel and you’ll hear that same cloudbusting spirit. Add some smooth neo-soul, a little 80’s synth-pop and an undercurrent of prog and you’re halfway there.
The Turning Wheel is a bold piece of work that finds Spellling collaborating with a staggering 31 musicians to create some of the most lush and ambitious tracks you’ll hear all year. Alongside the synths and Cabral’s vocals you’ll hear a rather stunning assortment of acoustic textures. Banjo, brass, piano, harp and strings create celestial soundscapes for Spellling to unfurl her tales of transformation. As she sings on the theatrical cosmic folk of Awaken, “let your heart surrender/ let your heart transform”.
The album is split into halves with the more uplifting tracks grouped as the ‘Above’ and the darker songs falling under the ‘Below’. Clocking in at just under an hour, The Turning Wheel is a lot to take in yet the quality of the compositions and uniqueness of delivery keep me curious. Inspired by the strange and evocative Frida Kahlo painting Wounded Deer, Little Deer blows the doors wide open. Heavenly harp and a soulful R&B influenced groove find Cabral immerging from hibernation, “dead of winter/ dead of eve/ little deer will marry me/ tender lovers of the earth/ turn us back into the dirt”. The innocence, joy and ecstasy at the heart of the track are entirely undeniable.
The first half of the album contains plenty of these euphoric, soul-stirring moments: moments that have you questioning why Spellling isn’t more well-known. Take the rather stunning title track with its hair-raising choir, rich instrumentation and Cabral’s showstopping vocal performance. It manages to sound fresh while also coming over like some great, long lost recording from the ’60s. In its finest moments, The Turning Wheel is a thoroughly timeless LP. Always really should be a hit too with its mix of glittering 80’s synth soundscapes and heart-wrenching vocals. Like I said, Spellling is clearly some kind of magician.
The ‘Below’ section of the album see’s the mood shift with the mournful piano and Gothic tones of The Boys At School. The sublime melodrama reaches its peak as Lisa Reed’s prog-inspired guitar shreds its way into the mix. Alongside The Boys At School, I’m absolutely hypnotised by Magic Act. An intoxicated merry-go-round of a tune that pulls you into its dark embrace with warmth, magic and starry-eyed wonder. The theme of change and transformation runs through the entire album. Backed by playful piano, seductive bass and limber drums Revolution finds Spellling weaving through layers of desire and fire, “I’m in a permanent revolution”. An ecstatic crescendo of drums, brass, piano and sonic fireworks bring the track to a joyfully cathartic conclusion.
It’s an undeniably impressive achievement; an expertly composed, layered and emotionally resonant LP that seems to reveal more on each return visit. Taken in one sitting, the hour of music here can almost seem overwhelming. Yet if you’re willing to give the album the time it so clearly deserves, you’ll be rewarded. Cosmic ballads infused with hope for a better tomorrow. If the reality of the daily grind is starting to wear a little thin then I can’t think of a better piece of artful escapism to immerse yourself in than The Turning Wheel.
All words by Andy Brown. You can visit his author profile and read more of his reviews for Louder Than War here.