The Turning Wheel
2021 • POP/EXPERIMENTAL • SACRED BONES
BEST NEW MUSIC
Revealing a shift from her last projects, Cabral seems to fully embrace the baroque pop genre in The Turning Wheel. This is a record filled with orchestral instruments generating intersecting melodies, featuring emotion-evoking, and striking breathy vocals on top of triumphant melodies.
Comparisons made between the California-born artist and the well-known British art-pop icon, Kate Bush, have not been held back since the release of Cabral’s third LP, and rightly so, as her breathy and lively vocals evoke Bush’s signature voice. In “The Future”, the whispery vocals recall moments in “Hounds of Love”, while in “Emperor with an Egg” they sound like a perfect fusion between Björk’s and Bush’s voices. Revealing a shift from the less digestible and minimal previous Spellling EPs, Cabral seems to fully embrace the baroque pop genre in The Turning Wheel. This is a record filled with orchestral instruments generating intersecting melodies, featuring emotion-evoking, and striking breathy vocals on top of triumphant melodies. Its lyricism is cryptic, heavily relying on symbols and semiotic connections, yet surprisingly elementary at the same time, sometimes even seemingly threatening a solid narrative structure that would perhaps keep the listener more invested in it.
The turning wheel is representative of what Chrystia Cabral points out as the feeling of being “immobilized by the structures and regiments of being a modern world citizen”, as she stated on the album’s Bandcamp release page. The ever-spinning wheel ends up being a figurative imagery of the artist’s personal and political concerns, most of which covertly reside in the song’s lyrics. Both the melodies’ structure, as well as the cover art, convey this idea of movement and fluidity — a feeling of restlessness well depicted by the lines “What a wheeling feeling / When I’m complete / I think I found my way around / This mortal coil”.
“Little Dear” works perfectly as an opening track. It establishes an inner dichotomy between its uplifting melody and the theme being portrayed: the immenseness of life and its end. The little dear motif plays together with the ambience set by the soulful instruments to further enlarge this dichotomy. Over a set of violins and percussion, we find Cabral singing “Little deer will marry me / Tender lovers of the earth / Turn us back into the dirt”.
In “The Future”, we seem to be transported to space. The weightless effect the production conveys, the hints of starry sound effects, and the line “Come and save me, I’m floating in space / Farther and farther away” create an atmosphere in which the listener seems to be floating among the stars, as well. This feeling ends up being confirmed in the next track, “Awaken”, in which we hear Spellling demanding “Space Command, engage the Great Return / Back down to Earth”, while radio interference noises warmly surround us, as we begin our descent back Earth. The static noise accompanies us all the way through our journey until we finally land, with thunderous and warm motor propulsor noises closing the track in a powerful way.
One of the record’s highlights, “Emperor with an Egg” remarkably transmits as much delicacy as the penguin’s egg it portrays. With its cold, icy, melodic, and fragile sonorities, it sounds like a forgotten track out of Björk’s Vespertine. Here, the penguin is doing its best to protect the egg from the cold and the ice. There seems to be hope for a short period of time, only for it to be crushed when Cabral closes the track by singing “I can feel a leopard seal / Oh, I can feel a leopard seal”, known to be emperor penguins’ predator. The major shift in the album occurs right here — the majestic and dreamy nature of the tracks is now permanently replaced by much a much somber and eerie atmosphere, one that gets carried on by the later track, the synth-led emotional “Boys at School” and maintained by the track “Queen of Wands”, which starts with a dark violin melody, introduces a drum pattern on top of heavy sounding synths and quickly progresses to an electronic-centred dance track, the closest we get to her previous record, the 2019’s Mazy Fly.
Some other unexpected and worth mentioning moments may be pointed out, like the use of a banjo in “Revolution”, before the track’s development towards a grandiose final with a jazzy piano, dreamy synths, fireworks, and incomprehensible chanting. Another remarkable moment would be the lushy guitar riffs on “Magic Act”; as well as the dreamy harp and trembling synths on “Sweet Talk”, resembling Newsom’s YS carefully merged with Garson’s Plantasia.
While the album is mostly carefully constructed and every song undoubtedly lets its pertinence be known, tracks like “Legacy” may not deliver accordingly to what could have been their full potential, falling short of a being as memorable as others that follow them, and possibly threatening what could have been a perfect listening experience. Yet, “The Turning Wheel” encompasses a panoply of sounds and instruments that act as stimulus the listener then appropriates in the construction of its own universe of the album, one that is certainly filled with cosmic and mystical motifs capable of evoking strong emotions. The listener comes up with its own constructed reality, one that perhaps works as a sacred haven that will keep them coming back for more…