“I’m in permanent revolution” sings Chrystia Cabral on Revolution, one of many stand out tracks on The Turning Wheel, her third album under the Spellling name (note the deliberate, third l). It’s impossible to reduce such an ambitiously kaleidoscopic album to one line but if you had to pick one that defines the record this is the one that keeps presenting itself. It’s not just because of the synergy it shares with the album title, but more down to the whirl of ravishing colour and extroverted drama that it encapsulates.
Her previous two albums, 2017’s Pantheon Of Me and 2019’s Mazy Fly were more experimental and occasionally minimal and opaque affairs, centred more around a leftfield electronic sound but The Turning Wheel feels like a genuine breakthrough moment for the California-based artist. It features a cast of 31 musicians and comes with an ulterior aim of raising awareness and advancing the rights of queer and BIPOC people.
There’s so many tracks competing for recognition it’s hard to know quite where to begin when trying to summarise. The first two singles, Little Deer and Boys At School, give a flavour of the broader sounds on the album, confidently expanding into further afield territories while showcasing the uplifted, energised nature of the album compared to its predecessors.
The title track sees Cabral’s vocal inflections and upward trills assume further prominence while The Future proves itself to be a quietly joyous neo-soul saunter through a fully in-bloom summer meadow. Both are also examples of how she cleverly introduces Sgt Pepper style brass into the latter sections of the songs to add that little extra bit of musical sunshine.
Indeed, the best moments come when tracks are turned on their head and reroute in pleasingly unexpected directions. Revolution best demonstrates this, the mid-song percussive synth hits being the gateway to a jazz-oriented outro that dances off into the distance. Legacy takes an enjoyably Francophone, carnivalesque detour halfway in and Queen Of Wands offers another shift of sorts, its chamber-inspired opening ceding ground to darker, propulsive electronics. Awaken, meanwhile, is one of the harder moments to pin down, suggesting the sound of Joanna Newsom singing over a psychedelic R&B piece that has been especially written for the stage. Magic Act goes further, incorporating some euphonious soft-rock guitaring into the mix and Sweet Talk ensures the album finishes on a sumptuous note, blending in what sounds like a theremin for good measure.
Some might find her vocals to be occasionally on the wrong side of quirky/extravagant and there is the odd moment that doesn’t quite work out as well as those elsewhere. Yet, on the whole this is a significant artistic leap, a progressive album of dazzling stylistic pluralities that demands attention.