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Spellling: The Turning Wheel

Spellling, or Chrystia Cabral as she is known within this mortal realm, writes music from the perspective of someone who was at one point part of this world, but eventually advanced beyond what we understand as humans. 2019’s Mazy Fly sounded like an alien abduction chronicled through Cabral’s captivatingly thespian presence. Whereas Spellling sounded like someone who just went on the world’s most seductive UFO joyride ever, her newest album, The Turning Wheel, transcends beyond the stars. Cabral is not of this world, surpassing even her alien kidnappers of albums past; she has assumed the role of an unnamed divine being, serving as a mouthpiece for the characters portrayed across the almost-hour of material on the album.

There is no cohesive narrative or theme on The Turning Wheel besides what could generally be referred to as “the human condition.” A description this broad might lead one to believe that the album is just another pretentious attempt at writing something “important,” but the tales Cabral spins are unassuming, making sure not to propose any messages, providing nothing more than what the listener derives from it on their own. The writing style and compositions are reminiscent of centuries-old folk songs and lullabies, further lending to the notion of Spellling singing as some omniscient being, simply presenting stories of love, growth, and catastrophe, leaving one to make of it what they will. “Little Deer” fittingly opens the album up, with said deer representing innocence as Cabral woefully whispers about the cruelty it will face (occasionally by her hand) in a world it is too pure for. Most of The Turning Wheel concerns relatively upstanding souls coming to grips with a society that goes against their own ideals. The line containing the album’s title, “You want to set out for the cities/ Turning wheel, but I want to stay up on the hill,” presents someone escaping from the woes of the ever-turning wheel of life, playing as a sort of mantra for the characters littered across The Turning Wheel.

This song, as well as every song on the album, is bolstered by the most lavish compositions Spellling has recorded to date. Mazy Fly had inventive production, but it is also an album that relished in freakish David Lynch-tinged synth melodies, creating a soundtrack better suited for the circling of crops, a far cry from what Cabral has forged on The Turning Wheel. The synths still make prominent and even essential appearances, one of the best examples being in the gentle breakdown on the epic “Boys at School,” but the album’s instrumental identity lies in the 31 musicians enlisted by Cabral to expand the scope of Spellling to new heights. Through gorgeous strings and powerfully elegant piano, the collaborators provide a wondrous soundscape spanning centuries, with each tune usually integrating elements of pop music’s past. Rock drums make frequent appearances, such as on “Legacy” where they turn an eerie, otherworldly instrumental into a head-nodding groove.

Spellling’s vocals, in a word, are theatrical. It’s one of Cabral’s defining characteristics as a singer. She came off as deliberately campy on Mazy Fly, but considering how grandiose this new album is, they blend in seamlessly with the over-the-top compositions, sounding larger than life. “Awaken” in particular could easily be mistaken for a dramatic number in a Broadway play with her dire declarations of “All we need is right here/ All we need and more/ Let your heart surrender/ Let your heart transform.” She has a way of conducting herself akin to fellow art pop icon Kate Bush: effortlessly sultry while never allowing the focus to drift from the world-shaking storytelling. Beyond her Bush influences, Cabral’s vocals, particularly on “The Future,” serve as a dead ringer for Michael Jackson, which is no doubt a reflection of Cabral’s ability to bend her own voice in whichever direction she wishes.

Within the runtime of The Turning Wheel, Spellling rarely misses a beat. Sometimes an instrumental break might go on for a few measures than is comfortable, and maybe the lyricism is a bit too on the nose on “Awaken,” but it is difficult to complain about these moments when they sound so immaculate. There is nary a moment that doesn’t dazzle the listener with its eclecticism. On The Turning Wheel, Spellling has assembled something that is bigger and better than anything she has ever done before by building upon her previous work in ambitious and inventive ways, setting a new standard within the modern art pop landscape.

Summary
The writing style and compositions are reminiscent of centuries-old folk songs and lullabies, further lending to the notion of Spellling singing as some omniscient being.
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Dimension-Spanning Theatrics
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