Spellling – The Turning Wheel

Since its release on the 25th June, Spellling’s third full length album ‘The Turning Wheel’ has been gathering a large amount of critical acclaim and rightly so. Spellling is Chrystia Cabral’s artistic, musical and visual project whereby she blends baroque sounds with hypnotic synths and her unique ethereal voice alongside an ensemble of 31 musicians. Antony Fantano describes it as ‘wall-to-wall enchantment’ with a 10/10 which must mean it’s good, right?

Spellling © Adora Wilson

Whether or not this had an influence, the album holds the same name as a Phillip K Dick’s short novel; a story of a post-apocalyptic future with a society centred around a belief in karmic reincarnation whereby its citizens move forwards and backwards on ‘The Turning Wheel’. In a similar vein, Spellling’s album carries a mysticism, and like life and death, is split into 2 halves, ‘above’ and ‘below’. There is a marked shift between the two halves which can be heard in the tonal shift from ‘Emperor with an Egg’ into ‘Boys at School’ which turns from a fairytale esque narrative voice into a much darker recollection of behaviour and gender inequality experienced at school. In her kickstarter campaign to support the album and payment of musicians, Cabral describes how her passion shifted from poetry to music after the passing of a loved one. Within the lyrics of the album, this poetry background can be heard, the phrasing patterns are unique and ebb and flow in a way that lacks the more traditional binding of a standard rhythmic beat. There is a Kate Bush similarity that is hard to ignore, even in the distinct sectioning of the album, that is apparent in the vocals of ‘Turning Wheel’ or ‘Queen of Wands’.

The music video for ‘Turning Wheel’ is theatrical and playful- with some serious Kate Bush facial expressions at the beginning. In the kickstarter campaign, Cabral describes the sheer amount of effort and organising the composition of the album took with so many collaborators and despite this, there is still so much fun and joy in the video that feels organic and natural. Fittingly, there is a lot of tarot card imagery within the video, which makes sense as the track-list reads like a tarot deck. ‘Queen of Wands’ is actually a tarot card, carrying a lot of symbolism like lions for strength, sunflowers for fertility and life and a black cat which can be read as being in touch with your shadow self, or darker side of being. This can be heard in the song, beginning with a layered string composition, leading into a much murkier, psychy synth track.

Spellling © Aiden Jung

The album closes with ‘Magic Act’, ‘Revolution’ and ‘Sweet Talk’. ‘Magic Act’ is one of my personal highlights of the whole album, it’s slow and stripped back but has a swirling witchy melody accentuated by the occasional chime and topped with Cabral’s haunting vocals. It showcases the diversity of the album and Cabral’s talent as a composer from eclectic, large scale big band pieces to a much more laid back, lounge style piece that holds equal effect. This can be seen in transition from ‘Magic Act’ into ‘Revolution’.

The ‘Revolution’ video has similar aesthetics to ‘Turning Wheel’ with the same make up style sitting between new romantic and club kid. The track is similarly genre bending, beginning simplistically, and finishing with euphoric brass fanfares. Within the video, and as can be heard on the track there is a collective nature to the record, whereby it is very clear that Cabral is the driving force and it is her vision, but you can hear where she has worked with many musicians to make the most of their instrument’s individual voice rather than making the instrument simply fit her vision.

Spellling © Erik Bender

Anthony Fantano is right, the album is brilliant, and it is clear to see and hear the sheer amount of dedication and hours that went into its production. From the lo-fi, synth based ‘Mazy Fly’ in 2019, it is incredible to see how much Cabral’s artistic vision has developed and that she was able to pull off such an ambitious project. Obviously, it is expensive to pay 31 musicians and therefore the kickstarter campaign was crucial. It is now being used to support a possible short film to accompany the album which would be cool to see, you can donate here.

And listen to and buy the album here.

Isobel Mcleod