ALBUM REVIEW: Spellling balances apocalyptic ’80s nostalgia on ‘Mazy Fly’

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Spellling, Mazy Fly

Oakland indietronica artist Spellling’s second full-length album, Mazy Fly, strikes an intriguing contrast between excitement and fear. Chrystia Cabral’s take on ‘80s electronic music generates an almost-possessed feel with its unique use of synths and chilling vocals. All of these songs share the backdrop of haunting vocals and a heartbeat of Rolland TR-808 percussion—evoking the looming chaos that accompanies ventures into the unknown. With atmosphere and flow to spare, Mazy Fly is a beautifully cohesive and conceptual experience.

Mazy Fly
Spellling
Sacred Bones Records, Feb. 22

The electronica vibe of Mazy Fly would make a superb soundtrack to Netflix series Stranger Things. Opening cut “Red” plunges into chaotic bass stabs, with Cabral’s witchy singing setting an eerie tone. The rhythmic heartbeat in the background helps ground the song’s otherworldly ambiance with more familiar lo-fi pop beats. This lifeline of danceable groove proves vital as the album continues its experimental crusade through harrowing subject matter.

“Haunted Water” embodies the spooky vibe with ’80s nostalgia and unease. The track introduces mind-altering keyboard stabs and a distorted backbeat, two elements that carry on throughout the whole album. Its theme of dealing with a painful past comes together as Cabral’s spectral voice leads the hook: “It’s not enough to build a bridge over haunted waters.” The vocalist refers to the misdeeds of the Middle Passage—the trade system that moved slaves all over the world—as well as the current refugee crisis. The bridges become a metaphore for how some historians gloss over the horrors, instead emphasizing the supposed benefits that came out of harmful systems.

“Under the Sun” incorporates string arrangements to a more uplifting effect, providing a rejuvenating change in relation to the album’s stark production. Cabral sings about a desire to prevent the past from interfering with what she wants to do right now. The “live in the moment” theme ties into the overarching ominous feel. Part of the hook, “Silver flashes/ A new start,” borrows from the idiom “With every cloud, there’s a silver lining.” It ties back to the hope in the middle of uncertainty. The video enhances this sentiment, with Cabral dancing amid a post-apocalyptic backdrop, seemingly unfazed by her destructive surroundings.

Mazy Fly‘s songs juggle feelings of hope and fear, keeping each cut interesting. When one song starts to fade into the next, there’s a potent feeling of anticipation for what direction it’ll take. The arrangements are still unified in execution, but the dichotomy between the album’s dark and light side creates a compelling contrast. “Haunted Waters” and “Red” fall under the destructive category, while cuts like “Under the Sun” addresses its more hopeful quotient. Though she aknowldges past mistakes, Cabral remains determined to learn, grow and avoid making those same mistakes a second time.

The unique pop style of Spellling intertwines the known with the unknown—contrasting danceable beats with the immersive soundscapes Cabral creates with her supernatural singing and keyboard playing. She uses these sonics to get listeners lost in Mazy Fly as she unpacks relevant, provocative stories.

Follow reporter Aarushi Nanda at Instagram.com/aarushi_nanda.

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