Release Date: Jun 10, 2014
Record label: Captured Tracks
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Pop, New Wave/Post-Punk Revival
Success caught Justin Vallesteros by surprise. Recording under the name Craft Spells, in a matter of months, he went from dabbling in his bedroom to getting a record deal, making a video, and receiving glowing reviews from respected publications. Idle Labor, released in 2011, was well-received but left the Seattle-born, California-raised Vallesteros confused and wondering what to do next.
Listening to Craft Spells' second album, Nausea, is like settling back into a warm bath, filled with relaxing smells and lots of therapeutic bubbles. Justin Paul Vallesteros already showed with the previous two Spells releases, Idle Labor in 2012 and Gallery in 2013, that he had a way with a new wave-y pop hook and could construct impressive walls of icy sound. Here he melts the walls to reveal a peacefully warm heart full of sunny melodies, bouncy pianos, swelling violins, and expansive vocal harmonies.
After a stunning debut record and a somewhat underwhelming follow-up mini-album, there's much riding on Nausea for Craft Spells. This new album may lack the immediacy and exhilaration of the debut — Nausea is somewhat of a slow grower, taking multiple listens to reveal its charm — but it retains that same delicate melodic sense and addictive pull. Slower in tempo, hazier and more melancholic, Nausea is the come-down after the sugar-rush of Idle Labor, and is in many ways the perfect companion piece to its predecessor.
After a couple long years of quietude, Craft Spells (the songwriting vehicle of dream pop scholar Justin Vallesteros) reemerge with Nausea. The album shares a name with a Sartre novel about existential angst. The buoyant synths that once dominated Craft Spells' sound have been largely swapped out in favor of moody string arrangements and pensive, piano-based compositions.
Within seconds, drums ripple in like a firm handshake, introducing Craft Spells’ sophomore album, Nausea, the follow-up to 2011’s Idle Labor. We’ve become accustomed to rudimentary drum machines and synth surfaces from Justin Vallesteros’ project, but according to an in-depth and detailed press release, after he experienced the despair, isolation, and loneliness spurred on by an unhealthy relationship with social media (bells and ears are ringing, huh?), Vallesteros spiraled into a nauseating and suffocating sense of hopelessness. Longing for his pre-internet brain, “Twirl” sees him desperately pleading, “I don’t know what to do.
Justin Paul Vallesteros’ second album under his Craft Spells moniker dumps the bedroom electronica of 2011 debut ‘Idle Labor’ for a serene set of pleasing pop numbers featuring gentle acoustic strums, delicate melodies and wispy vocals. It’s a progressions that fits the Seattle-based artist well as the spacious production and deft arrangements allow many of the songs to flourish. Opener ‘Nausea’, with its twinkling guitar lines and harmonies, is soothingly psychedelic, while ‘Breaking The Angle Against The Tide’ offers a welcome change of tempo.
Justin Paul Vallesteros started out making guitar-centered, conventionally structured, and reverb-heavy music that’s most often described by some conflation of “bedroom pop” or “indie rock”. Similar to the majority of artists in that field, his Craft Spells project wouldn’t have stood a chance if it was evaluated by the standard metrics of pop and rock: melodic ingenuity, sonic innovation, whether or not it actually “rocks”. The main appeal of Craft Spells is how the music gives the listener an ability to parse the many subtle differences in the various states of being by one’s self—there’s the attractive aspects (solitary, lone) and the not-so-attractive (isolated, lonely).
Craft Spells, over the past three years, has gone through a lot of changes. And now Justin Vallesteros and crew are back with Nausea, the first Craft Spells album since the band’s 2011 debut, Idle Labor. In that time, Vallesteros moved to San Francisco, suffered from a bout of writer’s block, moved back in with his parents, took a guitar hiatus and trained himself to play the piano.
Given that Craft Spells specialise in the same brand of dreamy, melodic guitar work that the likes of Real Estate and The War On Drugs have made their calling card, you could probably be forgiven for thinking that they missed some kind of memo earlier this year, when both of those bands dropped new full-lengths to rave reviews. In actual fact, though, such lateness to the proverbial party would be entirely in keeping with the lackadaisical nature of Justin Vallesteros’ outfit’s sound; they’ve never sounded as if they were in any kind of rush. It’s a characteristic that’s stuck with them as far as this full-length follow-up to 2011 debut Idle Labor.
When Justin Vallesteros first appeared in 2011 with “Idle Labor,” his debut as Craft Spells, he joined a wave of young bands (like Beach Fossils, Small Black, and MINKS) already reviving a strand of indie-pop that would seamlessly fit into any “college rock” mixtape from 25 years prior. With its rough edges and limited (largely synthetic) palette, “Labor” was conveniently on trend; but the young Californian’s knack for balancing moody melancholy with youthful exuberance made him stand out from the pack. On “Nausea,” he’s added some pomp and polish to the proceedings: strings, pianos, and acoustic guitars thicken and vivify the sound.