SPELLLING : SPELLLING & The Mystery School

Spellling and the Mystery School review

So many times, artists—particularly POC—are praised for their creativity, resilience, and ability to make the most out of limited resources, like a gambler, stuck for life, playing craps at the five-dollar table. As someone who writes about artists on the fringes, mostly Black folks, both past and present, that struggle with the inequities of the industry, I often wonder: what if these cats were given some real bread—excuse me, these individuals were given proper funding, ample resources, and most importantly, time to let their creativity flourish? You have to believe if given the chance, their approach would be different if the resource angle of things was a bit more concrete. But getting back to reality: Most never got the choice.

SPELLLING, the moniker of innovative Bay Area pop architect Chrystia Cabral, has been pushing boundaries, and that Sisyphus boulder up the hill for a while now.  When was the last time you heard a vocalist with the imagination of Kate Bush, the mysticism of Stevie Nicks, and the range of Minnie Riperton?  It speaks to a wild compass, right? A venn diagram on shrooms.

In the past Cabral has named Minnie Riperton’s Come to My Garden, Kraftwerk’s Computer World and Iggy Pop’s The Idiot as her all-time go-to records. So, when people talk about SPELLLING’s “otherworldly” creations, it’s a deep crate bench from which Cabral draws her water. 

SPELLLING & the Mystery School is a title born out of a suggestion from her father who told Cabral of his fascination with early Christian mythics, or spiritual practitioners who led schools to impart their ideas about God and the nature of life. It also ties into Cabral’s former profession as an elementary school art teacher, who found joy in helping unlock the imagination of children. The release liberates—allows previous songs in the short but awe-inspiring discography to get uncorked and breathe new air, making this a smart album without overthinking it.  

Cabral was also aware that her previous albums—Pantheon of Me from 2017, Mazy Fly from 2019, and The Turning Wheel from 2021—still had adventurous ideas for 2023. Being on the Sacred Bones imprint, some of these works would be better served with enhanced production and large-scale arrangements. Crowd reactions to certain songs and the way they were presented live made the idea of a fleshed-out record from an archetypical early canon a proper and original second introduction. You can thank the strings readings executed by Del Sol Quartet and Divya Farias, the shrieking piano of Jaren Feeley, the percussive meter of Patrick Shelley, bass of Giulio Xavier Cetto, the acid rock electric guitar of Wyatt Overson, and the exacting background vocals of Toya Willock and Dharma Moon-Hunter. But thank Cabral for that overall vision.

From the rippling piano intro, quasar shootings in the background, and violins swerving above the full proto-disco kick, SPELLLING creates a stadium anthem in “Under The Sun” that is full of space and swooshes, allowing attendees to get cosmic while grooving. The operatic “Cherry” combines apparitional riffs with deep dark jam session drum and bass synchronicity, propelling even more of the Cabral pomp into upper-level revelry. “Revolution” leans into art rock, starting with early Genesis (Peter Gabriel version) dramaturgy musings and ending with Once & Future Band’s full-on 4/4 frippery groove with orchestral overtones.

Cabral is on to something here. Look no further than Taylor Swift’s current tour, which includes six re-recorded albums in the setlist, which is calculated to net 2 billion dollars in North American ticket sales. Somebody book SPELLLING on the national headline tour this album so astutely confirms is appropriate, and possibly past due. 

Label: Sacred Bones

Year: 2023

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