Release Date: May 22, 2012
Record label: Captured Tracks
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Craft Spells' debut album, Idle Labor, was a very well-done blend of New Order-style synth pop and fragile Sarah Records-influenced indie pop. Along with the pitch-perfect sound the group created, songwriter Justin Paul Vallesteros crafted songs that didn't quite match up to the work of his inspirations, but weren't a million miles away either. The group's follow-up EP treads nearly the same stylistic path as the debut.
Justin Paul Vallesteros has been studying his Radio Dept. How else do you explain the (very) subtle expansion of sound on Craft Spells' new EP Gallery? Embracing a floaty aesthetic not unlike the Swedish dream pop band's, Vallesteros and his cohorts seem to glide through six tracks, concerning themselves with (in no particular order), girls, loneliness, summer days—or, often, all of the above. .
Craft Spells' 2011 debut, Idle Labor, was something of an overlooked gem, but then again, being overlooked is an occupational hazard for Justin Vallesteros. After all, he's working within a steady subgenre where supply almost always outstrips demand, triangulating pop within "indie-," "synth-," and "mope-" prefixes-- essentially, makeout music for loners. But Idle Labor did manage to distinguish itself, and both the title and the content of the sweet love hangover "After the Moment" illustrated how.
Craft Spells are 80’s synth-pop fetishists, and damn good ones at that. For a young band, this Seattle quartet has its skinny Duckie (as in Pretty in Pink) ties wrapped firmly around the romantic New Wave vibe. This style of John Hughes nostalgia was ushered in with M83’s “Kim & Jessie”, and from there, bands like Wild Nothing and Twin Shadow have picked up the torch.
Justin Vallesteros found success with his first Craft Spells record, 2011’s Idle Labor, but the album truly came alive when he assembled a band to take it on the road. There, the gauzy pop that sounds so in-line with other home-recording artists today, took on its own personality. So it’s puzzling that, for the follow-up EP Gallery, Vallesteros has gone back to recording by himself.
In Simon Reynolds’ book Retromania, the noted music critic discusses the dictates of tradition of truly mastering a form before being able to elaborate on it and therefore building one’s distinctive creative voice. It’s difficult to say if Craft Spells, essentially the solo vehicle of Californian Justin Vallesteros adopted this approach to music-making, but the kid is certainly able to nail the winsome nature of eternal 80s touchstones. The heartbeat of his 2011 debut LP, Idle Labor, fluttered along with the melancholy pop elements of The Smiths, New Order, and The Cure.
Remember the time when The Drums were hailed as the saviours of music with their retro-rock-jingle-pop? Craft Spells are riding on a similar wave. Maybe too similar. Channeling the very distinct tones of New Order’s pop years blended with a little bit of miserablism in the spirit of forgotten New York band Elephant, The Smiths or even Interpol, Craft Spells do really wear their hearts on their sleeves - their nerdy wooly jumper sleeves that is.
Stockton, CA's Craft Spells dropped one of the most overlooked albums of 2011 with their debut, Idle Labor. The brainchild of bedroom auteur Justin Vallesteros, the record sounded and looked like it was written, recorded, manufactured and packaged for Factory Records, circa 1986. After supporting both the Pains of Being Pure At Heart and the Drums, the group's profile has risen, just in time to drop this stopgap EP, Gallery.