11 Songs, 36 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Craft Spells started as a one-man effort in California, then blossomed into a full band in Seattle after a few singles and an EP. This full-length debut by Justin Paul Vallesteros and his band oozes an inarguably ‘80s-tinted warmth and sweetness; at times it feels like a hug in earbuds. Vallesteros knows how to craft a strong melody, and the ringing guitars entwined with the artist’s yearning vocals make a formidable pair. Idle Labor offers moments that evoke everyone from The Smiths (“The Fog Rose High”) to Orange Juice (“Your Tomb”) and even early New Order (“You Should Close the Door”). An early single, “Party Talk,” is a glistening gem, with a crisp dance beat set to joyous, underplayed guitar licks, ghostly vocals, and touches like a vaporous theremin and a shimmering triangle lending the song a delicate, ephemeral feel. Craft Spells have done their homework well. As a thesis, Idle Labor merits an “A” for historical comprehension, with lavish bonus points for originality and contemporary interpretation.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Craft Spells started as a one-man effort in California, then blossomed into a full band in Seattle after a few singles and an EP. This full-length debut by Justin Paul Vallesteros and his band oozes an inarguably ‘80s-tinted warmth and sweetness; at times it feels like a hug in earbuds. Vallesteros knows how to craft a strong melody, and the ringing guitars entwined with the artist’s yearning vocals make a formidable pair. Idle Labor offers moments that evoke everyone from The Smiths (“The Fog Rose High”) to Orange Juice (“Your Tomb”) and even early New Order (“You Should Close the Door”). An early single, “Party Talk,” is a glistening gem, with a crisp dance beat set to joyous, underplayed guitar licks, ghostly vocals, and touches like a vaporous theremin and a shimmering triangle lending the song a delicate, ephemeral feel. Craft Spells have done their homework well. As a thesis, Idle Labor merits an “A” for historical comprehension, with lavish bonus points for originality and contemporary interpretation.

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About Craft Spells

Toward the end of 2009, in a bedroom in Stockton, California -- previously known only in the music world for producing Stephen Malkmus' Pavement -- a 21-year-old Justin Paul Vallesteros began experimenting with simple synth and guitar lines, gradually layering them to create the sound that would become Craft Spells. Joined by guitarist Frankie Soto, the Seattle-born Vallesteros recorded "Party Talk," a smoky dream pop track that would first introduce the band to the blogosphere -- an important tool for any up-and-coming artist from a small town at the time. This combination of lo-fi and D.I.Y. press attention created a buzz for the EP Beauty Above All, which eventually led to Brooklyn-based label Captured Tracks signing the band.

Home to the likes of Beach Fossils and Wild Nothing, Captured Tracks started off by releasing two tracks from Craft Spells' debut EP as a single in the fall of 2010. The "Party Talk"/"Ramona" 7" was as cool and laid-back as it was bursting with rhythms that cried out for dancing and the warmth of summer. Anna Luxx Ryon (synths), Jack Doyle Smith (bass), and Peter Michel (drums) then joined the lineup, which soon released "After the Moment" on 7". The direct '80s groove of the track would not have seemed out of place on Madonna's Immaculate Collection, although Vallesteros' almost deadpan Ian Curtis-influenced delivery grounded things in what was becoming a typically Craft Spells style.

Having announced they were working on debut full-length Idle Labor in early 2011 and played some well-received shows in and around the area, Craft Spells upped stakes and moved to Seattle -- hometown of the band's rhythm section and, of course, Vallesteros' birthplace. The move signaled their intent to bring their own brand of shimmering indie pop to a city where they weren't at all out of the ordinary, while the downside to the move was losing Frankie Soto, who remained in Stockton. Idol Labor was released in the spring of 2011. Meanwhile, Fonso Robles replaced Ryon and Craft Spells revealed plans to play European dates for the first time. After contributing a song ("Talk About the Past") to a 7" tribute to one of their chief inspirations, the Wake, in 2012, the band released the six-song EP Gallery in May.

Vallesteros moved to San Francisco soon after, then after finding himself with a severe case of writer's block, he moved back in with his parents, unplugged from the world, and taught himself to play piano. This helped him break through his block and begin writing songs again. Heading to the studio in Seattle with guitarist Javier Suarez and drummer Andy Lum in early 2014, Vallesteros concocted a warmer sound complete with a string section for the band's second album, Nausea. It was released by Captured Tracks in June and the group headed out on tour soon thereafter. ~ Daniel Clancy

ORIGIN
Stockton, CA
FORMED
2009

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