Tia Cabral, who performs under the name ‘Spellling’, had no way of knowing that her third studio album ‘The Turning Wheel’ would come to be defined by one review in particular; that of Anthony Fantano, AKA Theneedledrop, who gave the album a rare perfect score: making it one of just 6 albums to receive a 10 from him in the course of over a decade. Such a rating can be a double-edged sword; one the one hand it introduces Spellling to an entirely new audience – her number of monthly Spotify listeners has tripled since the perfect score was given -, on the other, it sets expectations almost impossibly high.
In terms of assuaging expectations, it helps that ‘The Turning Wheel’ begins with as epic an opener as ‘Little Deer’; which is easily the album’s best track. Dark and quietly brooding, it’s a meditation on innocence and it’s corruption, told through the lens of a deer being hunted: it’s “eyes are wide” and it’s “heart has claimed no sin or shame”, but the narrator pleads “run, now, run away from me / The world is cruel”. With Cabral’s theatrical vocals accompanied with roaring synths and trumpets, the track is a five-and-a-half-minute epic.
The album’s strongest trio of tracks, in fact, take place on the very first leg of the LP. ‘Little Deer’ is followed by the spectacular ‘Always’, which attempts to reconcile fantasy with the imperfections of reality, and then the hippy-anthem title track about wanting to escape the city and live in nature; after a barebones first verse, the song kicks into high-gear and unfolds into a transcendent world of it’s own.
‘The Turning Wheel’ exists on a mythical, magical plain, firmly in a league of it’s own. ‘The Future’ begins as a straight-forward song about yearning (“Close my eyes and I dream of you”), but Spellling soon reveals that what separates her and her partner is not distance, but time (“There’s nothing I can do / ‘Cause I live in the future”). ‘Emperor with an Egg’, meanwhile, almost anthropomorphises a penguin, whose epic battle against the elements is chronicled on the track.
‘Boys at School’, meanwhile, is a midway highlight; a 7-and-a-half-minute opus that chronicles a girl about to turn 16, battling oppressive forces; symbolised through the “boys at school” who don’t “play the rules”. Despite portraying a narrator oppressed and maligned, there’s a quiet determination and assuredness to the track: “I’m not afraid of how lonely it’s going to be / If I change my mind I’ll go walking outside / Just to see how the law is in place still.” Amidst the instability and meanness of humankind, Cabral finds comfort in the unchanging laws of nature.
‘The Turning Wheel’ necessarily drops off somewhat after ‘Boys at School’:- how could it not? But across it’s twelve tracks, it never loses it’s sense of mysticism and transcendency. It’s not, at least not to me, a perfect album; it occasionally wears it’s influences a little too firmly on it’s sleeves (most notably, Kate Bush) and feels a tad-bit musical theatre in parts, but nonetheless, it remains an enchanting display of a clearly immensely talented artist; and it contains some of the year’s best songs so far.
Best Tracks: ‘Little Deer’, ‘Always’, ‘The Turning Wheel’, ‘Boys at School’, ‘Emperor with an Egg’
Worst Tracks: ‘Awaken’