Spellling's new record The Turning Wheel begins with “Little Deer,” one of the many high points. The narrator wants to reach out to the gentle deer but knows that humans are the destruction of earth and instead advises the deer run away from them, for “This world is cruel and you're no fool.” The themes expressed throughout this poignant song are enough to rope the listener in and foreshadow what's to come. Though the music is charismatic and inspiring, the lyrical content is often heart-rending.
Oakland-based artist and musician Chrystia Cabral brings life to the collection of songs, creating a world of fairy tales and magical realism. Embodying pop icons before her, such as Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, and Kate Bush, Cabral creates a universe within herself, a unique and visionary record. The songs are about love, nature, loneliness, desire—everything worth writing about. Her knack for hooks is evident, which isn't to say these are merely “simple pop songs”—the melodies, harmonies, and arrangements are complex.
The production behind Cabral's beautiful voice is what separates the new album from her previous work. I became a fan of Spellling's music in 2017 after ordering her fantastic debut record Pantheon of Me. I wasn't familiar with Spellling's work, but I still order anything Ratskin Records releases. When I received the record, I spun it nonstop for weeks. I was immediately entranced by Cabral's vocals and the minimal accompaniment. Reminiscent of trip-hop artists like Portishead and Massive Attack, with mixtures of noise and avant-garde sound textures weaving in and out like a drifting poem, Pantheon of Me is an impressive debut record. Cabral’s growth as an artist has been inspiring to see and hear.
Among my favorite songs on the album is the sixth track, “Emperor with an Egg.” The imagery and central metaphor that Cabral dances around is sentimental and profound. The song's musical content makes it come off like a love song, longing for someone who the narrator views as perfect. The love doesn't have to be tough: it can be a fleeting love, an imaginary type of love that exists only as quick as it can be turned away, pure and playful. It’s a song of admiration, though the meaning is obscured by Cabral's purposefully ambiguous lyrics.
“Oh the night has teeth
And the wind has teeth
And the ice has teeth
But he won't retreat.”
She ends the song:
“I can feel a leopard seal
Oh I can feel a leopard seal.”
Elements of trip-hop in Spellling's music are less evident in The Turning Wheel than in previous releases. Overall it's less jarring and abrasive, but just as experimental. Recorded with 31 socially distant musicians during the pandemic, The Turning Wheel feels more like a twisted musical, where luscious fields of blooming flowers can warp into dark caves of mysticism at any second. It's a fantastic third album, one I'm sure will eventually be hailed as one of many masterpieces by Spellling.