SPELLLING: The Turning Wheel (Sacred Bones)
I'm going through anxiety times, and as a traveler in this landscape, someone throws a life preserver as your head bobbles up above the water. That life preserver is SPELLLING's third album, The Turning Wheel. I'm not the type that goes for happy music, nor something depressing. I live in the gray areas or the shadows; this album speaks or sings to me that I find moving. When you hear something new, it reminds you of other recordings, but in a very shadowy manner. It is almost an afterthought or a picked-up phrase one overhears when walking along with the crowd.
I hear Prince, Kate Bush, John Barry's James Bond songs, late 1960s psychedelic Beatle recordings, and at times Yma Sumac. Not exotica, but soul music that is adventuresome, seductive, and I feel her presence or an arm around my sorry shoulders. The songs on this album are recorded and arranged in such sonic detail that they are beautifully presented. There are traces of electronic music but mixed in organically with strings, horn section, and choruses. Some songs remind one of The Beatles, but this album is truly in the spirit of that band. The title song can fit in Magical Mystery Tour, and not in a cliche revival, but as a new piece that is now. There is nothing retro or cynical here and rarely have I heard such a hopeful and open arms invitation to a work of art.
I know nothing of Spellling, except barebone facts that her real name is Chrystia Cabral, born in 1991 and is based in Oakland, California. She has done two previous albums, but I haven't (at this time of writing) heard these works. There are electronic hisses and sweeping orchestration from wooden instruments and woodwind sections. The orchestration is such a rarity these days. It's hard for me to finger what this is like or even comparing it to another artist or record. On this album, Spellling is on the same plane with vintage (and top of his game) Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks, and Ram-era Paul McCartney. But this is not music from the 1960s; it's very much 2021 and maybe beyond. It takes skills from the past but is used in the present, without irony or sentimentality. All the songs are excellent, but the one that hits the emotional spot is "Boys at School." The dreamy but deadly chorus of I hate the boys at school; they never play by the rules has a strong emotional pull for me. The title cut is such a beautiful melody. She keeps a section of the song almost floating as she layers a beautiful piano on top of the theme. Not in sound, but in practice, it reminds me a bit of Thelonious Monk when he handles a melody. That part lasts for less than a minute, but it stays in my head as an earworm. It is like watching a master chef making a sandwich, and they add layers of sauces or ingredients to the final version of the sandwich. Your mouth waters, and it has the same effect on me when I listen to Spellling. There are lots of those moments on The Turning Wheel.