Sometimes too much backstory is distracting. It’s easy to get lost in the maze of Tia Cabral’s inspirations and touchstones for Mazy Fly, her new album as SPELLLING, but it’s just as easy—and far more transporting—to simply get lost in the music.
That’s not to say her inspirations don’t matter: from a lightness of spirit Cabral felt while watching her dog run around to meditations on the effects of technology, the wonder of flight and the horrors of Middle Passage slave ships, Mazy Fly is densely packed with ideas and images. The music, on the other hand, isn’t dense at all. These dozen songs are at once spacious and intimate, with plenty of room for elements to seep into Cabral’s arrangements and then recede again. Much of the instrumentation here is electronic: she builds songs around drum machines and carefully layered synthesizers, and then smooths out the tracks with bits of humming organ, wah-wah guitar or eclectic sound effects that jingle and rattle on “Golden Number” like a cartoon slot machine that’s about to pay off.
Her voice is by turns limpid and sultry. Cabral’s vocals are a stylized murmur on “Hard to Please,” sliding through synthesizers that gleam like a dimly lit room full of mirrors. She enunciates in an exaggerated whisper on “Real Fun,” wah-wah guitar giving way to a disquieting, carnival-esque organ sound as Cabral delivers lyrics about alien lifeforms coming to Earth in search of a good song. She sings “Haunted Water” with a more formal rigidity, letting her voice swell and ring over dark, ominous synths, as if she has steeled herself against echoes of the pain and violence of the slave trade.
For such varied subject matter—wrenching historical memory to buoyant afrofuturism—Mazy Fly is a remarkably cohesive collection of songs. Cabral has constructed a whole world through her music. It’s as much an interior environment mirroring her own distinctive viewpoint as it is a reflection on the outside world, but that ends up being one of the album’s strengths. Mazy Fly is idiosyncratic, but in a thoughtful and imaginative way that is too appealing to resist.