Music Reviews

Spellling | album review

Megan Moonbat

written by : Megan Moonbat

photography : Spellling


Spellling, The Turning Wheel, Sacred Bones

Tia Cabral released her first full-length album Pantheon of Me in September 2017, garnering rave reviews, and earning her place as Bandcamp’s #4 record of the year. The Oakland-based artist originally hailing from Sacramento honed her craft studying art at UC Berkeley, releasing her 2019 sophomore album Mazy Fly (Sacred Bones) as her MFA thesis project.

Now she’s back with her third LP The Turning Wheel: her most realized creative vision to date. Fully self-produced and arranged by Cabral, The Turning Wheel sees her enriching her instrumental landscape by introducing acoustic instrumentation along with the synth-based sound that featured predominantly on her first two albums. Via the help of crowd-sourcing, she was able to gather 31 musicians to participate in the record.

The album delves into macrocosmic themes of “unity, the future, divine love and the enigmatic ups and downs of being part of this carnival called life.” Separated into “Above” and “Below” (as above, so below). ‘Above’ covers the first part of the album, and is resplendent in sweeping orchestral arrangements featuring horns and harp. While the ‘Above’ portion sprawls to new levels of Spellling’s oeuvre, ‘Below’ is the shadow side of the equation that is centered in earthy percussions and minor key piano.

Album opener, ‘Little Deer’ is awash with lush orchestration, sweeping choral whispers and a sprawling horn section. Inspired by the story of Frida Kahlo, it finds space within spaciousness and obvious comparisons to Kate Bush are inevitable. However, unlike so many other female artists who garner Kate comparisons from lazy journalists, Cabral is definitely of the same cloth, yet her self-described “faith freak folk” brand of music is entirely original.

Title track ‘Turning Wheel’ mixes digital and analogue instrumentation seamlessly. However, synth lines are minimal, as a more chamber orchestral sensibility dominates. Surprising bursts of mariachi horns and crashing timpani invigorate the broader, classical strokes. Anti-violent at its core, it is drenched in hope despite the pervading bleakness of the time in which it was created. A pervasive sense of hopefulness flows throughout the record, providing a soothing balm to the stinging pressure of dark times.

Tracks like ‘Queen of Wands’ and ‘Magic Act’ exhibit all the creepy, carnie elements the artist finds inspiration in as they bask in shades of vaudevillian music hall bawdiness paired with 80s style synths. There is a lot going on, but Cabral delivers the goods seemingly effortlessly, in this atmospherically engaging universe that proves to be a fascinating visit into her bold, imaginative cabinet of curiosities.

It is clear that Cabral is a music-maker who has truly come into her own and is at the height of her powers. ‘The Turning Wheel’ is a fully realized vision with a cohesive soundscape that runs throughout the course of the album, yet with twists and turns around every corner as she builds up and crashes down in moody, temperamental ranges of platitudes.

If you listen and like what you hear, consider supporting independent musicians and buy their music. Spellling | Bandcamp