Craft Spells
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Craft Spells

Seattle, Washington, United States | INDIE

Seattle, Washington, United States | INDIE
Band Alternative Pop

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"Craft Spells: Mosaic Music Festival"

On a night of the old retro bands, it was the new retro band that staged a minor triumph.

As part of the Mosaic Music Festival, fresh synth poppers Craft Spells breathed new life into the genre, even as Duran Duran and OMD were bringing mid-lifers back to their youth.

In fact, frontman Justin Vallesteros emerged on stage at the Esplanade Theatre Studio gushing about having just met OMD.

The cherubic and ebullient Vallesteros was clearly the heartthrob of the 170 not-so-deadly hipsters gathered. “Justin! Justin! Justin!” a guy with a nose ring squealed as Vallesteros strapped his Fender guitar over his curly hair.

Inspired by New Order and the Swedish pop of The Radio Dept., the Seattle-based Craft Spells opened their set with “Love Well Spent”, a B-side to their “After the Moment” single.

Larger cheers were reserved for “Scandinavian Crush”, a blog-hopping hit from their 2011 debut “Idle Labor”. Its sweet chorus, “If not tomorrow / When will it be? / When can I see you, please?” prompted an open show of affection from the fans. The outrageous hand movements of one even caught the eye of lead guitarist Javier Suarez, who smiled in return.

“Your Tomb” brought a mellower, gothic feel to the proceedings. Right in time for Vallesteros to introduce their new drummer Andy Lum, who was only playing his second show with Craft Spells – leaving the Esplanade with not even enough time to update their publicity shot.

Lum then launched into the rousing intro to “From the Morning Heat”. A Cure-like number about abiding love (“My tears won’t give in”), it was also around this point that Craft Spells started sounding one-note. With their synth player gone, the band lost some of the dreamy electronic textures that differentiated the tracks on “Idle Labor”, and made them memorable.

Even with the debut of the new “Still Left with Me”, “Burst”, and “Warmth” (off their upcoming Gallery EP), Craft Spells risked seeming like a run-of-the-mill indie-rock band.

But the upbeat “After the Moment” brought the night back to life. Its jangly, singsong quality was clearly the highlight, followed closely by “The Fog Rose High” and “Party Talk”, another early Craft Spells song.

With “Given the Time”, the band wrapped up the night, only to be cheered back for the perfunctory yet fitting encore of “You Should Close the Door”. By then, Vallesteros was dancing around and yelping, and the band seemed genuinely touched by the rousing reception.

At the post-show dialogue the next day, Vallesteros revealed how he recorded “Idle Labors” alone at home in California, in his “hermit” school days. The name Craft Spells was born out of his interest in shamanism and how he felt like a healer, concocting these songs for himself and his tribe of friends.

In a New Order T-shirt, Vallesteros also shared how he has been getting into jazzman Lester Young and the dubstep of Burial. Craft Spells too would do well to expand their sonic palette, especially live.

The band was then presented with a picture of The Oddfellows – the seminal 1980s and 1990s rockers – to whom Craft Spells’ promotional photo bears an uncanny resemblance to, right down to the retro backdrop.

Guess the more things change, the more things magically stay the same. - insing.com


"Craft Spells Live in Boston"

When I first heard Craft Spells’ debut album, Idle Labor, the only thing that excited me more than the bouquet of flowers that adorned its cover was the modest press photo that accompanied the digital download–Craft Spells are the most unassuming and trendiest musicians that I’ve come across in a while. This trait stands out because their physical appearance sharply juxtaposes their sound: these 4 scrawny electro-pop partisans can erect some of the grooviest and ’80s-inspired synths that you have ever heard.

Their show at the Paradise was a confectionary gathering of dance enthusiasts with a strong disco pulse. The glisten from Idle Labor was in full effect as onlookers beckoned to every reverb as Craft Spells enchanted us with their presence. Movers like “Party Talk,” “After The Moment,” and “Your Tomb” swayed even the most dedicated (headliners) Drums fans. They also played songs off of their upcoming EP entitled Gallery, like “Still Left With Me” and “Leave My Shadow,” which stood as pretty solid material. After their performance, frontman Justin Vallesteros was sweet enough to indulge audience members in small talk at merch table. Craft Spells are inextricably talented, hardworking, and very personable–three characteristics that are guaranteed to make them the next big thing. - Performer Mag


"Craft Spells Live in Boston"

When I first heard Craft Spells’ debut album, Idle Labor, the only thing that excited me more than the bouquet of flowers that adorned its cover was the modest press photo that accompanied the digital download–Craft Spells are the most unassuming and trendiest musicians that I’ve come across in a while. This trait stands out because their physical appearance sharply juxtaposes their sound: these 4 scrawny electro-pop partisans can erect some of the grooviest and ’80s-inspired synths that you have ever heard.

Their show at the Paradise was a confectionary gathering of dance enthusiasts with a strong disco pulse. The glisten from Idle Labor was in full effect as onlookers beckoned to every reverb as Craft Spells enchanted us with their presence. Movers like “Party Talk,” “After The Moment,” and “Your Tomb” swayed even the most dedicated (headliners) Drums fans. They also played songs off of their upcoming EP entitled Gallery, like “Still Left With Me” and “Leave My Shadow,” which stood as pretty solid material. After their performance, frontman Justin Vallesteros was sweet enough to indulge audience members in small talk at merch table. Craft Spells are inextricably talented, hardworking, and very personable–three characteristics that are guaranteed to make them the next big thing. - Performer Mag


"Show Review"

Craft Spells took to the stage to a fantastic early turnout. The band has not played in Seattle since their show opening up for The Drums and their short show on the Yeti Stage at Sasquatch! Music Festival this year. Burning through tunes from their excellent new EP Gallery, Craft Spells is really beginning to show signs of honing their on stage sound and presence. Justin Vallesteros was animated and all over the stage like a classic 1980s frontman. The band sounded excellent and the crowd was very receptive to their upbeat Modern English-esque sounds. - KEXP


"Craft Spells: Gallery EP"

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. Beneath the sonic cohesion of Idle Labor was a narrative arc guided by the emotional immediacy of Vallesteros' writing-- whether it was butterflies or heartache, it didn't sound like he gave himself much lead time to process his feelings. In other words, it encapsulated an entire relationship that could've ended 30 minutes prior to its recording.
But like most debut albums that appear to heavily draw from autobiographical romantic turbulence, it leads to the question of whether Vallesteros already exhausted his best material. Gallery EP is a follow-up that evades that question by pretending it's not being asked. He just makes more Craft Spells songs that could've easily served as deep cuts on Idle Labor or the basis for a worryingly similar follow-up, and without anything that pops like "After the Moment" or plays into a broader lyrical scope, Vallesteros relies more on his debut's goodwill to distinguish itself rather than its own merits.
Despite taking Idle Labor on the road, Gallery is still a solo recording made of the same constituent elements-- glistening guitar treble, rudimentary drum machines pounding out patterns a little too jittery and stiff for human hands, occasional pop-funk affectations, insatiable pining, and Vallesteros' sonorous vocals-- something like Jens Lekman with less range and polish but still an effective tool. His melodic sensibilities could be described as such, too: Opener "Still Left With Me" digs away with little subtlety, voice and guitar doubling each other to drive a simple, singsong hook home. On the subsequent track, he sings, "warmth consumes me," which simultaneously feels like a romantic ideal for Vallesteros as a lyricist and an artistic one for Craft Spells' imperfect and humane electronics. "Burst" is the closest Craft Spells get to no-qualifiers pop, but the handcrafted production for once feels like a limitation instead of an atmospheric choice-- if the bass had the depth to sound rounded rather than blocky and the acoustic guitars had sparkle instead of a dot-matrix texture, it could give us an idea of how Vallesteros truly hears his music. It's tough to say whether it would augur a promising new direction or make him sound completely generic: My guess is that it would end up something like the first Stills album, and that's not a bad thing.
And I guess the issue at hand is that if you're invested in Craft Spells' arc, it'd be nice to at least have an idea rather than a wild guess. Gallery is six Craft Spells songs that range from good to pretty good, which theoretically should make it a welcome addition. But so many of Vallesteros' predecessors-- the Radio Dept., Belle and Sebastian, even more recent peers like Wild Nothing-- reward fans by using EPs as chances to work without a net, and the results can often outstrip those of their actual albums. Hopefully, Gallery is the closure of this particular moment and Vallesteros is inspired to see what comes after. - Pitchfork


"Album Review: Craft Spells Idle Labor"

Stockton, CA, artist Justin Paul Vallesteros records under the moniker Craft Spells, producing a sort of soft, synthy, dreamy compendium of new wave and 80's pop. Throughout his new album, Idle Labor, Vallesteros infuses a lyrical melancholy into his shifting, emotionally potent music. From the chorus of opening track “For the Ages” (the dour insistence of “Even though our love has died, you’re still mine”), it’s clear that no matter how dance floor-friendly and exciting the music might get, there won’t be any celebratory tracks on this one. Instead, the over-the-top mopey lyrics combine with the spot-on New Order impressions to come away as another solid, uninspired New Wave revival disc.
Early track “Scandinavian Crush” further solidifies the themes that Vallesteros relies on: heavily reverbed vocals, numb, dimly hopeful love lyrics, cheesy synth drums, and the occasional stab of Duran Duran guitars. Two minutes into the track, the majority of the instrumentation falls away, leaving a punchy bass line and Vallesteros alone, asking when he can see his hopeful love again. The sunny, almost tropical beat on “Party Talk” is backgrounded constantly by moaning vocal harmonies, and the lead is a dead ringer for Bernard Sumner, buried deep in the mix and smothered in reverb. While the music contains a varied, pulsing life, the lyrics remain constant, even flat, throughout. While the affected sadness is a staple of the genre that Vallesteros aims for, the achingly simple lyrical explorations of that sadness lack the punch of other versions of the same.

The machine gun synth drum rolls and cooing female backup vocals of “From the Morning Heat” add a layer of interest, as does the disco-ready “After the Moment”. While Vallestero’s lyrics regularly lack excitement, his instrumental choices certainly make up for it. His inspirations are worn on his shirtsleeve, yet he somehow simultaneously manages to sound original rather than derivative. His slight background flourishes and tonal choices (see the bassy ghost notes on the mellow “Given the Time”) keep things fresh, giving the album an inherently listenable quality that the lyrics belie. Together, the two can clash but never enough that it destroys an individual song. - consequence of sound


"Craft Spells Idle Labor Album Review"

In these highly technological times of Soundcloud, You Tube and saturated inboxes, there's always going to be the odd catch that slips the net. Take 'Idle Labor' for example, a record first unveiled on these shores in April of this year. With the post-Easter festival season taking shape, it's probably the most difficult time to keep up with new releases and as a result, occasional gems such as this find themselves cast aside for later perusal only to remain on the shelf. Thankfully, the shuffle feature on my trusted iPod Classic served up a timely reminder of why 'Idle Labor' and its creators Craft Spells should not be sidelined to obscurity. Despite being relatively unknown outside of their Seattle base at the start of this year, the four-piece have conjured a whimsical masterclass in how to ensure the past sounds like the future in the present. - Contact Music


"Craft Spells: Idle Labor"

Working under the name Craft Spells, Stockton, Calif.'s Justin Vallesteros makes music for bedsitters who dream about being social. Though often addressed to a love interest either real or imagined, Idle Labor is above all a lonely album that rarely betrays its origin as a solo project. Sonically it recalls Wild Nothing it the way it mines a large swath of 1980s synth pop, but its clear emotional tenor gives it a distinguishing perspective and personality.
Idle Labor exists in a time frame best described by the title of its ebullient centerpiece-- "After the Moment". These are sketches of romantic problems and solutions with the wounds still fresh and the thoughts uncensored. Taken as a whole, it could be read as a narrative following Vallesteros from heartbreak to infatuation and back, a few months' worth of romantic uncertainty boiled down to a taut and hooky album.
In a maundering yearn somewhere between Jens Lekman and Ian Curtis, Vallesteros introduces himself as a lovelorn melodramatist over sunstroked, near-Balearic pop. But as the narrative begins to hint at physical contact, the music works in lockstep, and Vallestreros builds tracks more as a dance producer than a singer-songwriter. And that's where he hits his stride-- while his vocals remain a central fixture, the post-punk mordancy is softened by locomotive arrangements that stack synth pads, ringing guitar, and primitive drum programming.
"Party Talk" starts a mid-album mini-suite with Vallesteros as a nebbishy Woody Allen character trying to decode a mutual romantic connection from casual conversation. But he leaps forward during the upbeat "From the Morning Heat", and by the fantastic morning-after celebration "After the Moment", something has apparently clicked; Vallesteros repeats the chorus as if he knows it's the best he's written.
The emotional high is predictably short-lived, and even within its brief half-hour runtime, more than a few of the melodies take detours and left turns. "The Fog Rose High" has the feel of a gothier Beach Fossils, while the anodyne dream-pop scruff of "You Should Close the Door" could have been a Radio Dept. B-side. But as with so many bedroom auteurs' debuts, it's tough to separate the creation from the creator, and Idle Labor shows the promise of a precocious songwriter who isn't claiming to have anything totally figured out just yet. - Pitchfork


Discography

2012 - Gallery EP
2011 - Idle Labor
2011 - Party Talk 7"
2011 - After the Moment 7"

Photos

Bio

In the cold and dreary winter of 2009, alone in his bedroom and hidden from the darkness of the world outside Justin Paul Vallesteros had begun working on something that would change his life forever. What began as a couple notes played in experimentation soon transformed into vibrant melodies that soon shook Vallesteros musical foundation to the core. Guitar chords laced over pulse sating synth melodies and drum rhythms was a departure from Justins previous work; he began to create the dreamy nostalgic pop music that is Craft Spells. Justin is a California native who now finds residence in San Francisco. Craft Spells is the epitome of the recent uprising of the DIY music scene. Coming from a place not known for its musical history or impact on music culture it seemed destined for Craft Spells to stay as a bedroom pop project with no final destination in sight. But soon the shear amount of blog volume his work began to generate was unimaginable. Sites like Weekly Tape Deck, Pasta Primavera, No Modest Bear and Pitchforks Forkcast took notice and thus began the never ending worldwide posting and re-posting on blog after blog of Craft Spells. The sound is led by Justins blissful voice, backed behind beautiful guitar melodies over heavenly synths, pop basslines and looped rhythms.