When reviewing this album, the first thing I have to address is the nature of creativity. So when reading reviews of this album, “Mysticism” was thrown around a lot. So how does something sound “Mystical?” Well mysticism, regardless of religion, is defined as “the attainment of insight in ultimate or hidden truths, and to human transformation supported by various practices and experiences.” So where do we start with a definition like that? Let’s take a look at visions, since they are “the attainment of insight in ultimate or hidden truths.” And if we look at St. Augustine Literal Commentary on Genesis, St. Augustine analyzes Paul’s vision of a third heaven, and he uses Paul’s vision to categorize the 3 types of visions: corporeal (of the body), intellectual (of the mind), and spiritual (of the soul).
So when a song sounds mystical it combines all three of those elements. And due to the fact that St. Augustine’s Literal Commentary on Genesis is an analysis on the creation of our world, and his category of visions deals with the creation of a new world (a third heaven); creativity is the synthesis of the intellect, of the sensual, and of the spiritual to breathe a new world into existence.
Now the reason I bring up the creation of new worlds, is because this album is so unique and special that I cannot but help but describe as a new world of music. SPELLING’s vision is so unique, so cohesive, and so immersive–that I gotta go biblical on this analysis. That, and because I spent a whole day down in a wikipedia rabbit hole on mysticism. So I’m kind of stuck doing that now…
So with the corporeal analysis we’re going to look at the five senses. So in regards to sound, the first thing you notice about it is how spacious it is. Take “Blue (American Dream)” the vocals have an airy reverbed out sound that if played on a loudspeaker almost every nook and cranny of the room it was played in. The deep menacing synths growl, causing the walls to shake, and all the dishes in your house–to clatter around your cabinet–until they fall out and break. Then the razor sharp synth cuts through the airy vocals, and punctures your ear drum. Now mind you, the reason I bring up this song in particular is that it’s SPELLING’s music in it’s purest form. At one point the album will lull you into a meditative state, the music will have this menacing buildup, and before you know it–the dream becomes a nightmare.
Another song to illustrate this transformation is the first track, “Walk Up to Your House”. The best way to describe this track is that the vocals begin, as mentioned before, lull you into a meditative state. Mainly with it’s rhythmic structure that sounds like those meditative mantras they make you repeat in some group therapy session, or some religious ceremony . Then when the chorus kicks in and the double tracked choir of voices start singing, the rhythm of the track sounds less like a peaceful mantra, and that of a type of spell spoken in some black mass. This is all while some lush synth plays in the background, whose sensual sounds lure you into a false sense of security, and then slowly morphs into this electronic sinister organ. Usually I would make the comparison of this track to a femme fatale in some noir film, yet due to the nature of this music I would compare it more to that of a succubus. Which given the definition, “A female demon who has sexual intercourse with sleeping men,” is a more apt description of how corporeal the album is. This is because you don’t just listen to this album, you see this album, you can touch this album, and you can even breathe it in.
Pantheon of Me is so immersive that it’s like when you’re dating somebody and they have this one scent– a body wash they use, a type of perfume, some pheromone etc.–that in the moment you don’t recognize it as being special. Yet when you’re walking on the street and some stranger approaches you–you breathe in the air–and you breathe in that scent. That scent, that floods you with all those memories of a relationship long gone. That singular moment is so intense, those memories are so strong, it’s like you’ve time traveled back to the past, and you’re back in time–looking into each other’s eyes–and saying “I love you” again. That is how vivid the world that SPELLING has created, it transports you to an entirely different world, one that seems just as real as the one that we live in now, yet as fantastical and unbelievable, that it can only be described as a vision.
Now we gotta look at how she achieved building up such an immersive album. So we gotta look at this through an intellectual means. Every album can be looked at as a thesis. For example take the Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds. The central thesis of that album, quoting Brian Wilson is that, “[Pet Sounds] wasn’t really a song concept album, or lyrically a concept album; it was really a production concept album.” Which shifted the focus from music that would be played at concerts, or over the jukebox to be danced to; rather it was an album to be listened to with headphones on, lying in bed, with the lights turned off, and lose yourself in. Pantheon has the same type of thesis as Pet Sounds. Yet we’ve had 50 years of bands expounding on that thesis, so what does SPELLING do differently that sets her apart from other independent artists?
So let’s go to the state of modern music now. With synthesized, electronic music, and the circlejerk of what I call “Make-believe producers.” Everything sounds so polished that if there is any slight imperfection, 3000 incel reddit “Make-believe producers” will critique it to the point that it becomes virtually indistinguishable from any other song. I’ve seen this happen a million times where somebody does something a little different, and the nail that sticks out gets hammered back in. Yet what SPELLING does is not only make really polished tracks, but even makes the imperfections sound beautiful, making the mundane sound wonderful.
Take “Place Without A Form” which is the perfect title to illustrate my point. The drums sound both lo-fi, distorted, and panned over to the right; then they die down–as the synths and vocals take over– and only the snare comes back. They come back as though they are building up for that bass drop, only to impotently fade from existence. Then high hats are introduced, you think “Aha! This will be the build up before the bass drops!” Only for it to to impotently fade from existence. If you were to tell this to any “Make-believe Producer” they would shit their pants, because they watched that Masterclass series on youtube and DeadMau5 told them how to make drum beats, and that’s not how you make “beats” in your music.
So why am I putting so much focus on the drums? Because right now the central thesis of most musicians seems to be sounding “Professional” with their own personalized music studios on their laptops, but nobody tries to be “Expressive.” To have an electronic drumbeat sound like that is a breath of fresh air. It’s finding the soul within the machine. It’s making something organic out of something inorganic. Then with the synths that at first trudge along, then slowly morph into this amorphous shape, and at last begin to glitch out; while the vocals sing this exotic song, which turns into a scream, and then the chorus kicks in that sounds like the chanting of a mantra. All of these elements have always been in underground music, yet with everybody being their own “Make-believe Producer,” this creative spirit has died. What SPELLING does is to embrace the underground, the embrace the different, and by doing so she creates her own world.
So finally let’s delve into the “Spiritual” side of this song. Which I’ll focus on the “soulful” quality of it. What do I mean by soulful? Take a sunset, everybody can admire it’s beauty in a way that no other living creature on Earth can. Even the most nihilistic junkie can stare off in the distance at a sunset. Yet what being soulful means is expressing that beauty in a way that captures the emotional experience that everybody watching it had experienced. How does SPELLING accomplish this in her music? Well let’s find out.
So let’s take Bolt From The Blue, let’s do an experiment. For SPELLING’s vocal performance, isolate one word–just one word–and tell me what emotion is being conveyed. In fact I bet you can make an entire spreadsheet with the words she sings, and emotions that are being conveyed. I wouldn’t even be surprised if you could do that with every single syllable, let alone word. They say good singers can stay in tune, but great singers can emote, and SPELLING in all of her songs, can emote so many different feelings. Even the instruments–every synth, every guitar, every drum beat, every note, every beat–can convey so many emotions. Technically I know the reason SPELLING is able to do this so well is because of how good she is at using the pitch bend, something most electronic musicians don’t do that often, and it’s a tool that most people don’t understand how much it impacts their sound.
Let’s take for example classical music, classical music can convey a lot of emotion. It’s an emotion that’s played out over the course of several minutes, with crescendos, decrescendos, chord progressions, scales, etc. But if you isolate a single note, it’s almost impossible to apply a label to the emotion it’s conveying. Yet if you take, say blues, with it’s bends, and less formal structure–it’s a lot easier to isolate a note and say what emotion it is trying to convey. If you don’t believe me then try it yourself.
So when I say SPELLING is soulful, I mean that she’s the kind of person who sees a sunset, and doesn’t express it objectively, contrived, or in a cheesy way. She expresses it sincerely. And in this sincerity that at once seems so individualistic, becomes universal. Not because of the experiences she’s had–for they are her experiences–rather they become universal because expressions from the soul remind us all that there is more to life than meets the eye. We can’t exactly quantify beauty, but we can express it, and the ability to express beauty is what separates the soulful from the soulless.
Now that I’ve wrapped up this “mystical” sound that really is the combination of the corporeal, intellectual, and spiritual. What’s left to say? SPELLING’s Pantheon of Me can be described as nothing more than visionary. Her ability to create a “Third Heaven” down on the independent music scene is a breath of fresh air, and something everybody from the “I was born in the wrong generation crowd,” to the Hotel California boomers, to the indie music fans, and to the underground artists needs to hear. It breathes in a new world filled with new possibilities and shows that music isn’t dying because of the times we live in, rather it’s dying because you’re not hearing albums like Pantheon of Me.
With her ability to breathe into existence a new sonic landscape, and craft a new world. I give this album my recc.
Please checkout the rest of the label’s music as well because I’ve just scratched the surface of what they have to offer. Plus here’s a music video, as an added bonus.