SPELLLING, “SPELLLING & the Mystery School”
By Richard Villegas · August 21, 2023 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

Since the release of her 2017 debut Pantheon of Me, Tia Cabral, aka SPELLLING, has proven she can handily create expansive, fantastical worlds from the safety of her studio. But with each new record—including 2019’s synth-driven Mazy Fly and 2021’s orchestrally ambitious The Turning Wheel—Cabral has found new possibilities of expression on the stage. On her latest voyage, SPELLLING & The Mystery School, she looks back on her songbook and redraws the lines around some of her biggest crowd-pleasers.

Imagine SPELLLING & The Mystery School as the expansion pack to a video game rather than a stroll down memory lane. This is not a project bogged down by nostalgia, but an exercise in what Cabral is able to accomplish with a bigger budget and a band of encouraging collaborators and confidants. Sometimes the difference can be as simple as more robust production, like on “Cherry” and “Haunted Water,” where eerie synths from the original cuts are conserved and newly complimented by propulsive, hard-grooving rhythm sections. In the latter’s case, majestic vocals from Cabral and her fleet of back-up singers bring the phantasmagoric ballad back to Earth, breathing new life into every chorus.

Cabral makes a conscious effort throughout to transmute the abstract electronic atmospheres of albums past into tangible arrangements. The re-imagining of unmatched banger “Under The Sun” trades in ‘80s-flavored drum machines for chamber strings, spacey synths, and organic bass lines that could be mistaken for those on a ‘60s deep cut from Dusty Springfield or Spanish singer Jeanette. On “Boys At School,” revved up drums and deliciously melodramatic strings drive the revamp into exploratory, almost prog rock territory. It’s as if by workshopping these songs on the stage Cabral has uncovered uncharted territory hidden within her own catalog.

Just as SPELLLING & The Mystery School finds plenty of opportunity to up the bombast, new moments of intimacy also peek through. “Always” and “Sweet Talk” are built on little more than drums, bass, and piano, stripping back the bewitching production on the original tune from The Turning Wheel and affording Cabral the space to defend her artistry with just her charisma and powerhouse vocals. In a press release for the album she muses that these songs are “like my children all grown up, in a different stage of their lives.” And indeed, the prog leanings of “Revolution” and the soaring, at times trippy R&B of “Hard to Please (Reprise)” aren’t evoking tales of new realities or parallel universes, but making an argument for growth and development. This is a record about forward movement, and Tia Cabral keeps her foot on the gas.

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