Tag Archives: Craft Spells

Craft Spells: Nausea

Craft Spells: Nausea- In my research leading up to this review, I came across a list; a list consisting of 11 words from other languages that have no direct English translation. A few examples include the German word “waldeinsamkeit” (say that five times, fast) which describes the feeling of being alone in the woods or the Indonesian word “jayus”, which is slang for when someone tells a joke so poorly and is so unfunny that you can’t help but laugh. Another word featured on the list was “komorebi” which loosely translates to the interplay between the light and leaves as sunlight shines through the trees. Komorebi is also the title of one of the singles off of indie pop project Craft Spells‘ new effort, Nausea. The poeticism like the kind that went into naming said track can be found over every inch of the sophomore LP from Justin Vallesteros and crew. In the three years since Idle Labor, the band has matured sonically and has ventured into less obvious territory to create something that is just as charming as their previous body of work but with a refreshing new take.

In recent years, Brooklyn’s Captured Tracks have cornered the market on dreamy, bedroom pop. A great deal of their success has been in locating outstanding individual talents who, when joined by a supporting band, are a force to be reckoned with. Vallesteros holds his own alongside some other talented frontmen (Jack Tatum, Dustin Payseur, etc.). The great thing is that with each new release, we get to see each songwriter grow and discover more about their individual sound. In our recent interview, Vallesteros said of Nausea: “It’s more like my idea of composing an album rather than writing a record.” It shows. Vallesteros has looked past relying solely on hazy guitars and dreamy synths and has incorporated more varied instrumentation (flutes, strings, horns) to create sounds that are fuller and more broad on this new record.

The album kicks off with titular track, ‘Nausea’, which eases the listener in rather than diving in head-first. The mellow tone sets a precedent for what is to follow. Despite the obvious growth on the album, Vallesteros is smart enough to know that there are certain aspects of previous releases that fans really responded to and loved and has made a point to hold onto specific characteristics of his songwriting that make Craft Spells what it is. The relaxing nature of his music being one of those characteristics. Even tracks that have a bit more of an upbeat kick to them like ‘Laughing For My Life’ or ‘Twirl’ still manage to capture a peaceful element.

One of the tracks that stands out the most on the album, also happens to be the shortest. Clocking in at one minute and 47 seconds, the track is entitled ‘Instrumental’ and as you can guess, there are no vocals. What makes it stand out is exactly that. This is the first time Craft Spells have included an instrumental on an album and does everything a good instrumental track should do; it acts as a nice transition between songs and stays true to the overall sound of the album.

One of the big stand-outs on the release, other than the title-track, is the first single, ‘Breaking the Angle Against the Tide’. This is another song that ventures into new territory for Craft Spells with vocals layered in a way that is compelling to listen to and pairs a traditional indie rock guitar sound against some of those newly incorporated strings. With an album that, as a whole, moves at a relatively chilled out pace, ‘Breaking the Angle’ ends things with a bit more oomph.

With Nausea, Craft Spells have managed to strike the perfect balance between experimenting while staying true to a sound that made for a powerhouse debut. Soothing melodies, earnest lyricism, and well thought-out composition has made this sophomore LP a fine addition to the Craft Spells catalog and yet another building block to rising career in the world of indie music…9.7/10


Profile: Craft Spells


The title of Craft Spells‘ new album is quite the anomaly. The second full-length LP from the dream pop group is entitled Nausea but the melodies featured are so serene and lovely, nauseous is the last thing you’ll be feeling upon listening. It has been three years now since the endearing debut, Idle Labor, with an equally accomplished EP shortly following. Fans have been eagerly awaiting the new album as well as a chance to see the Captured Tracks darlings live. Violent Success was lucky enough to catch up with frontman and founder Justin Vallesteros before their stop at Chicago’s Township and chat about shifts between albums, major influences, and his best live show experience.

Violent Success: Between albums, have you noticed any significant changes in your songwriting process?

Justin Vallesteros: Sure, sure thing. On the first record, I really didn’t own any of the recording equipment that I used. So after three and a half years I acquired a lot of recording equipment and the sonics are a bit more broad- more atmosphere to the songs. And three to four years of life in general, I have more to bookmark into songs. So lyrically, there’s a big change as well and just the tone of everything now that I’m 26 years old; in and out of Seattle and San Francisco and just kind of found myself in a place where I’m a bit more confident in what I’m doing and what I want musically.

VS: So what do you think sets Nausea a part from Idle Labor or Gallery?

Vallesteros: Well the whole tone is completely different. It’s a lot of atmosphere. It’s more like my idea of composing an album rather than writing a record- a rock record. So that’s the biggest difference, really.

VS: Who would you say are some of the artists or bands that have influenced you in your own music?

Vallesteros: In the old music?

VS: Yeah

Vallesteros: Oh yeah, a lot of that C86 stuff and you know, the Factory Records stuff. The Durutti Column, New Order, The Cure…stuff like that. Pretty obvious things. Not much of shoegaze. I do like shoegaze but people have called that record “shoegaze” and I don’t remember any of that record sounding like shoegaze.

VS: Do you have any dreams collaborations? Anyone you’d really like to work with?

Vallesteros: Yeah! There are two Japanese composers, I don’t know if it’ll ever happen, but there’s this dude named Cornelius, he used to be a part of this band called Flipper’s Guitar. He makes music by himself now. His Wikipedia says he’s influenced by The Beach Boys and Beck and he’s a part of the shibuya-kei scene which is like jazz and trip hop-sounding music or kind of like city music. And that’s like what I love and I would love to work with him. And in the same case, Ryuichi Sakamoto is this Japanese composer who’s a part of this band, Yellow Magic Orchestra. Greatest contemporary piano player, to me and it would be a dream, for sure, to work with someone brilliant like that.

VS: So when you are writing songs, do you tend to focus more on your own personal experiences or things that you observe happening in the world around you?

Vallesteros: Both. I mean that all exists together. From the beginning, everything that I’ve done recording-wise has been kind of like a bookmark to my life. Each song is something to remember eventually, and a record is a good representation of someone’s time over a certain amount of years.

VS: So what’s your favorite part of getting to perform the material live?

Vallesteros: When we played Brooklyn at the beginning of this tour it was a 1500-person capacity place and it was so nice that everyone didn’t touch their phones. I didn’t see one cellphone and that made me so happy. It was almost like we showed up and then all of a sudden, we took everyone out of that world that they’re in and brought them somewhere else and that was really special to me. So I guess that was something new for me. Really taking people out of the mundane and bringing them to a new, whimsical world.

VS: So you’re on Captured Tracks which has a lot of rising talents like Wild Nothing, DIIV, Beach Fossils. Have you noticed if any of your labelmates have been influencing you at all? Do you guys get ideas from each other or collaborate?

Vallesteros: No. There are definitely some instances where you chat each other on G-chat, or whatever. But we just send songs to each other, we never tell them “you should do this” or “you should do that.” And when we all got signed we were kind of on our own. We were found by Mike Sniper at different times and didn’t know each other really so we have our own sound. It’s cool though, the first releases for all of those bands- we had this aesthetic that was like this huge group of bands that really had this vision and sound that was kind of relative. Over the years- most of these bands have a singer/songwriter that does everything in the band- it’s cool to see everyone branch out by their second record and just push the sound. It’s nice, in that sense, everyone’s branching out to their own thing. So it’s groovy. No one’s ripping off anyone yet. Not yet. I’ll call ‘em out.

VS: When you first started out making songs in your bedroom did you ever expect this project to turn into what it is?

Vallesteros: No, no. I’m originally from a town called Lathrop, which is kind of near Stockton, and the only band that really came out of their was Pavement. So that set a pretty high standard where everyone really didn’t make plans to get signed one day or tour or whatever. Yeah, I never expected it. So I had about five songs on Myspace, when Myspace was still a thing, and Mike Sniper randomly messaged me for mp3′s. All he wrote was: “MP3′s?” After that, I had a record done and that was it. So it was very natural and I’m still weirded out by it today, so it’s pretty cool. It still makes me happy, which is groovy.

VS: Say you had to describe your sound to someone who’s never heard Craft Spells beefore, how would you do that?

Vallesteros: Yeah, I think it’s relative. I’m a normal dud like everyone else. I’m not a personality, like “that crazy songwriter guy.” A real dude with feelings and that’s something people can generally associate with in their mid-20′s or even when they’re younger, however they wanna interpret it. I think I’m just relatable in that sense. It’s hard to describe the whole sound in general, but it just feels like your world.

VS: What do you want fans to walk away with with when they listen to your music or say, come see a live show? What do you want them to get from the experience?

Vallesteros: I want them to feel relieved from the oversaturation of just everything in this world. Relieved that you got to escape for like 45 minutes and relieved that you can actually listen to a whole record and read to it or work on your art to it. Instead of trying to focus on, “is this hip enough?” or “is this cool enough?”

(Bottle breaks nearby)

Vallesteros: That’s so sick! I hope that’s on the recording.

VS: (laughs) Probably

Vallesteros: Groovy

VS: I’ll be sure to include it when I’m typing it all up: sound of glass smashing!

Vallesteros: Yeah, cool. Perfect! But yeah, I hope they’ll take it and feel relaxed, finally. No anxiety.

Craft Spells at Township


To truly get the best out of Chicago’s vibrant music scene, you need to venture out to the smaller neighborhood venues where genuine bands make their way to play their hearts out. I think it would be safe to say that this is true of finding good live music in any major metropolitan area. Tucked in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago you’ll find a low-key spot called Township. Part bar and dining area, known for having a pretty fantastic brunch offering, part venue space, this was where dream pop outfit Craft Spells made their long-awaited tour stop last week. Armed with plenty of new material off their new release, Nausea, some old favorites, and the support of local bands Zoo Brother and Exit Ghost, Craft Spells put on a night of music sure to please long-time and new fans alike.

ZooBrotherKicking off the night was Chicago self-described DIY “garage pop” group, Zoo Brother. The band was not shy about how excited they were to be playing on the same bill as one of their idols. On the band’s Facebook page, Craft Spells is first on the list of influences and during their set, frontman William Karmis noted “I’ve been bumping [Nausea] in my car all week.” It was easy to see the dream pop influence in their sound and how Zoo Brother fit into the mix. Their strength was mainly in their solid, catchy beats that were easy to move along to. Karmis’ vocals had an earnest strain to them that helped portray the longing in the words he was singing. Each member was clearly in sync with one another as they played and overall, Zoo Brother did an excellent job of getting the crowd into the right mindset for what they were about to experience.

Immediately following was another local act, Exit Ghost. The large, six-piece indie pop group made their way onto the small stage and with so many members, to say that their sound was full would be an understatement. The energy was already rising in the room and Exit Ghost successfully heightened it that much more. They had notable stage presence, not only during their songs but between songs as well, making jokes with the audience. A standout factor during their set were the lovely vocals, both lead and background, which were almost too easy to get lost into.

Finally, it was time for the set that one could argue fans had been waiting all night for, others could argue fans had been waiting two years for since Craft Spells last played Chicago, accompanying The Drums at Subterranean. Whichever way you look at it, the anticipation in the room was undeniable. Each member made their way to their spot on stage to the sound of excited cheers. They dove right in with the title track off of Nausea. Their was mellow swaying and head-bobbing during the song which you would think would be consistent throughout the entire set, given the relaxed, peaceful nature of Craft Spells tunes. Well, you may be surprised to hear that the excited energy turned what started out as dancing into moshing later on in the night, especially during fan favorite ‘Party Talk’. The strangest part being that this was actually the second dream pop artist attached to the Captured Tracks label whose live show featured heavy moshing (note Beach Fossils at Subterranean, May 2013).CS2

Everyone was of course eager to hear some brand new material, fresh from the studio but of course, the crowd went nuts over Idle Labor gems like ‘From the Morning Heat’, ‘The Fog Rose High’, and the previously mentioned ‘Party Talk’. Frontman Justin Vallesteros addressed the crowd and noted how excited he was to be able to get to play the new stuff for everyone. The band’s energy quickly matched that of everyone in the room and for that one set, everyone seemed to let loose and completely let the moment take over.

You can’t judge a book by its cover and you can’t judge a live show by the genre of music. Craft Spells’ normally dreamy tone still managed to set the stage for a show bursting with energy.


Craft Spells: Komorebi

When it comes to great music, patience is key. All good things are worth waiting for, and if the new single from dream pop mainstay Craft Spells is any any indicator, Nausea is going to be worth it and then some. ‘Komorebi’ is the second track released off the new album, due June 10, and it’s been a long time coming. Craft Spells began in the bedroom of founding member and frontman, Justin Paul Vallesteros, and have evolved into Captured Tracks favorites and one of the most exciting acts in the realm of indie pop. It’s been three years now since their critically-acclaimed debut, Idle Labor with a follow-up EP in 2012 that was equally masterful. Fans have been anxiously waiting to hear something new from Vallesteros and in recent weeks, that’s exactly what they’ve gotten.

‘Komorebi’ is soft and sweet, with mellow woodwinds opening the track and luring the listener in with its gentle melody. Vallesteros vocals are also quite sweet, taking on a slightly higher pitch than his usual baritone that fans have come so accustomed to. The track smoothly glides at a relaxing pace from start to finish and is an easy listen. Overall it is a perfect contrast and balance to the initial track released off Nausea, ‘Breaking the Angle Against the Tide’, which, while still relaxing, has a much more traditional indie rock feel to it. Both tracks have managed to show off the band’s chops and have us all eager to hear Nausea in its entirety.

Craft Spells: Room 205 Session

Craft Spells: Room 205 Session- It has been two years since Captured Tracks’ lovelorn indie rockers Craft Spells released their endearing debut, Idle Labor and one since their latest EP, Gallery. For those of you out there who are fans of the group and, like myself, are anxiously awaiting new music, unfortunately I am not here to deliver news of any unheard tracks. To tide you over until the new album, (which frontman and Craft Spells founder Justin Vallesteros has revealed is expected to be released in 2014) check out the band’s live session of some of their best tunes on Room 205, an arts showcase through Incase. They may possibly be one of the most underrated bands in the world of indie, so for those of you not familiar with Craft Spells, this is the perfect chance to get acquainted with their dreamy, indie pop sound.

As someone who has not gotten the privilege to experience a Craft Spells show, listening to the live recording of them play was a treat in that it shows that this is one of those rare bands that sound just as good live, if not better. Their playful, whimsical instrumentation is intact and on point when performed live and captures a certain energy for those listening that is inescapable. Said melodies pair seamlessly with Vallesteros’ low and lovely vocals , which have most often been compared to those of the late Ian Curtis.

The main reason this session makes for such an excellent introduction to the band is that it samples a little bit of everything that Craft Spells has to offer. You’ve got the upbeat, dance-y tracks like ‘Party Talk’ and ‘From the Morning Heat’ which fully let loose and capture listeners with their infectious nature. With the likable ‘Party Talk’ it’s almost as if you are right there with Vallesteros at the party he describes in which his infatuation takes over when making small talk with the object of his desire. Things then slow down with the third track of the session, ‘The Fog Rose High.’ Just as how in ‘Party Talk’ the listener is transported to the setting of a party, ‘The Fog Rose High’ sets up a scene of a foggy, gloomy day in any given city with it’s slowed down guitar and drum beats. It is contemplative and soothing as you let the more ballad-like tune wash over you.

The last song of the session is one that can be found on neither Idle Labor nor Gallery. “Love Well Spent’ is a bonus track on the 7 ” for the single ‘After the Moment.’ It is also recorded separately from the other Room 205 Session tracks. It is actually a live recording from their set at Music Fest NW 2012 in Portland. Right before the track begins, you can hear Vallesteros addressing the audience and dedicating to the song to a couple of their friends at Reed College. Earlier, I mentioned that Room 205 Session is successful in showcasing how great the group manages to sound live. ‘Love Well Spent’ is an instance where the song is actually better live than on the recording. Craft Spells have been noted for having a dose of 80′s influence. This influence is at full-force on ‘Love Well Spent’ to the point of nearly bordering on techno. Now, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with 80′s techno but its overwhelming presence in this song is uncharacteristic of Craft Spell’s usual style. And Vallesteros’ vocals are edited in a way that makes them seem distant and thin which is unusual when normally his baritone is so full-bodied. In the live version of the song we get that same fullness that he has become known for and the same upbeat, winsome guitar sounds also characteristic of the band’s usual sound.

Though we may not get any new material with the release of the Room 205 Session, what we do get is both the reiteration of Craft Spells’ overall talent and a boost in excitement for the next album’s arrival. With their own brand of musical charm, Craft Spells are making a gradual and surefire ascent in popularity. Giving them a listen would be worth your time and I can guarantee that you too will be anxious for more music by the time you’re done…9.4/10

Love Well Spent (Live at MFNW)