2 SPELLLING: The Turning Wheel

2019 #10

Gee, thanks a lot Christmas Day…

Now I’ve got to start at the first day again! And finish, because it’s currently close to midnight on Boxing Day while I write this, and numbers two and one of this year’s list will be announced before many of the millions (and millions) of fans of this blog get out of bed. Isn’t it a damn shame that I had to stop at fifteen consecutive days though? I hear that when you reach twenty consecutive days you actually start earning money for writing. New York Times columnists get paid $350k a year, and you know how? They just never stop their daily streak! Charles Blow is currently on a 16,939ย [SIXTEEN THOUSAND NINE HUNDRED AND THIRTY NINE] day streak! He started on his fifth birthday by harshly critiquing the level of presents that he was somehow expected to enjoy that year (“A Space Hopper, mother, really? And how, exactly, is one expected to improve one’s life by simply bouncing around on an inflated orange ball? What epiphanies is one expected to reach? Am I expected to gaze into that lifeless face and see myself reflected in his sad eyes? Perhaps this is intended to be Gerald Ford, whose ‘bouncing’ support is laughably intended to keep myself and others like me precociously and intermittently above the bottom line of the hard ground below us? And you said it talked. It definitely doesn’t talk, you fucking whore”. Yeah, some of Blow’s early work can seem a little problematic to modern sensibilities), and has just popped out another article every day since. Admittedly, he can sometimes obviously be struggling for material, His fourteen thousand eight hundred and seventy second article was just him ranking the different noises his chair makes when he sits down, his fifteen thousand and twelfth post was just the entire lyrics of Scatman’s World by Scatman John followed by the sentence “Is it not still the case? #ScatmanDidItFirst”, while his sixteen thousand four hundred and second post was just a piece of clickbait suggesting that Kylian Mbappe might be sighing for Liverpool. But you know what he did after writing each article? A spellcheck, yeah? To check the spelling? Or, perchance, the Spellling?? See, it all fits in, don’ tell me how to do my job.

Spellling is doing everything right. Apart from that extra ‘L’, admittedly. Chrystia Cabral (for it is she) doesn’t just look upon music as a superfluous and expendable art form, music to Cabral is not some meaningless background to perhaps accompany Sunday’s laundry, nor is it just a way to attempt to play Spotify’s algorithm to perhaps ensure a place on its ‘Top 2021 Lit Bangers for your Bae’s Base Yeet or Some Shit‘ playlist in order to rack in those precious extra pennies and cents. Nor is it simply a job to bring in wages, because capitalism in 2021 is now all about monetising the things you love and somehow striving for a market value of your artistic talents. Spellling’s music isn’t her job, it’s her life, and although her talents are sky high, this isn’t reflected in the market value . Basically, there’s no fucking money in being this fucking good.

‘The Turning Wheel’ was at one time merely an idea, a draft, but one that Cabral knew could be a life changing piece of work. But it needed so much to achieve its potential. It needed strings, it needed percussion, it needed brass, it needed banjo, it needed trumpet and freaking flugelhorn. It needed the financial support that a band like Ultrasound would get for their debut album back in 1999 – back when labels were still throwing money around in a $40 billion per year industry – but with the financial backing that Ultrasound would get for each of their follow up albums. Indeed, the money that basically any musical artist whose name doesn’t begin with ‘Taylor’ and end in ‘Swift‘ receives for making music in 2021. Practically, nothing.

Cabral worked out that she would need $15’000 to bring her third album to its complete potential. Fifteen thousand dollars! I’m not saying that’s nothing – I’m pretty sure myself and nobody I know or have ever met could ever rustle up that kind of money – but to consider that’s how little a recognised and celebrated artist such as Spellling would struggle for is still a little depressing. If you bought this – or any – album via Amazon, know that the company makes roughly $13’955.50 per second. If you order through iTunes, know that in the time it takes to say ‘Spellling’s new record, ‘The Turning Wheel” Apple could cover the cost of making it. Fuck this, thought Cabral, and went straight to the people. She took the idea to Kickstarter, and raised more than $20’000. I paid $65 for the album on vinyl. I don’t even have a record player. Another link with Ultrasound.

And ‘The Turning Wheel’ absolutely kills it. Spellling’s most accessible album, by far, but that doesn’t mean it’s some cynical cash grab at commercial acceptance, more that it is more in touch with wider human feelings and is keen to liaise with them. It’s gorgeously theatrical album, playing like one of the most complex and emotionally affecting musicals you’re ever likely to hear, at times emotionally wondrous and thankful, at others damningly dark and wounded. For much of the year, it was actually battling with ‘Carnage’ for the year’s greatest, until the next record came along and socked them both in the nose. Eventually, this absolute masterpiece was docked some tiny points -much in the same ay that Janelle Monae’s 2018 record at times seemed a little too in debt to Prince – there are times on ‘The Turning Wheel’, especially on the otherwise wonderful title track, where the Kate Bush factor is just that little bit overwhelming.

I’m arguing why the record isn’t the absolute best ever here, it’s still an astonishing experience, and a wondrous example of unfettered ambition so gorgeously paying off. Amazing.


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