Tag Archives: Idle Labor

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.

International Party Date

Recently Com Truise and Ghostly International decided to release one of their most ambitious videos yet. This crime saga set to a backdrop of Com Truise’s Brokendate, is a visually stunning masterpiece. Great direction, great acting and great song.


This isn’t an official video from Craft Spells, but as far as fan videos go, its up there. Its a simple little video paired with one of the many great songs from Idle Labor called Party Talk.

Party Talk

Returning To The Colony Of Bees Like I’d Hoped

 Craft Spells: Idle Labor– I’m noticing a lot of bands getting their influences from 80s new wave… maybe its just me. The good thing is, some bands are actually achieving a perfect balance between the past and the present. Another one of those bands is Craft Spells. With Idle Labor, Craft Spells spin tales of love, loss and all of the other romantic things you’d expect to a soundtrack of near-perfect dreamy synth pop. What makes them most unique from others in the genre(which is getting more crowded all the time) is their subtle style which isn’t as flashy as their peers. While they can have their moments of full-band dream pop, they can also minimize themselves to simple beats, keyboards and vocals while still keeping it interesting. Then, to contradict both of those, they even have a disco-driven song thrown in for good measure which oddly fits with the others. Overall, they’ve struck a great balance thats remarkably refreshing to hear from beginning to end…9.3/10

Scandinavian Crush

 Cut Off Your Hands: Hollow– Wow, I didn’t see this coming. On their debut record, they made one of the most catchy and upbeat records I’d ever heard up to that point. Even now, You and I is still one of my favorites. I hyped this release like crazy because of it and then they give us this… and what IS this exactly? I have to tell you, I’ve heard bands go through dramatic transformations from album to album in my time(most notably The Promise Ring and The Get Up Kids), but this? Wow. While those aforementioned bands changed their styles to stay relevant in an ever-changing musical landscape, Cut Off Your Hands have instead gone from ultra-poppy, energetic indie rock to early 90s brit pop. I mean, this sounds like The Mighty Lemon Drops more than Cut Off Your Hands. I had to keep checking my iPod to make sure what I was listening to… even now listening to this as I write, I keep making sure I’m not making a mistake. But genre switching aside, how good is this? Well, if this came out in the early 90s like it sounds like it did, I’d give it tremendously high marks. Then again, its 2011 so I have mixed feelings… especially since I like the old COYH better. Don’t get me wrong, I like brit pop from the 90s. Shit, its what got me through high school, but I don’t know how relevant it is to music today. I think they were aiming for the late 80s-early-90s but I think the problem is that they did TOO good a job. Inspiration is one thing, this is pure emulation. So weighing my love for this type of music with my love of who they used to be versus relevance, this breaks even. I can’t help but like this even if it puzzles the hell out of me. So on that note, I’m making an uncharacteristic exception and giving this 2 grades: The first for its quality and how well its executed and the second for its relevance…9.5 and 6.2/10

Hollowed Out

 Moonface: Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped– Anyone who know me knows that I love Spencer Krug. After all, how many musicians do you know who can pretty much alter their style and incorporate it into 4 different bands? Not many. Yet Krug has done precisely that… sometimes with mixed results, but still. To really differentiate this from every other project of his, you really need to recognize the fact that the more you dilute your style into multiple bands, the more everything original that you’ve done before is at risk of becoming an afterthought of a listener’s current opinion of you. And for Krug this is a risk he takes year after year. Until now, I didn’t really see any problems with him stretching his style so much. But then again, Moonface is probably his least-ambitious project yet. I’m not sure if this is him exclusively, but if it is, it shows. While Swan Lake, Sunset Rubdown and Wolf Parade were all brilliant collaborations, this is a minimalist project with organs, light drum beats and vocals. While the organs are interesting as always, the percussion is nothing to write home about and the vocals are basically the same as his other projects. So we’re left with a general outline of a band without the key components that would make this memorable. Ultimately this lives up to it’s lackluster name as being a boring record with little to no replay value…4.0/10

Return to the Violence of the Ocean Floor

 Collections Of Colonies Of Bees: GIVING– From the ruins of Polyvinyl‘s Pele comes Collections Of Colonies Of Bees. Though this is their 3rd release, not much has changed over the years since they began… or since Pele for that matter. GIVING is yet another offering from their notoriously confusing group of song names that only variate from Lawn and Vorm… whatever that is. All in all, you’re looking at 4 tracks that sound remarkably more like Pele than they ever have before, not that I’m complaining. But you do have to realize that when dealing with instrumental indie rock, there needs to be a hook or at least something that sets you apart that makes you want to keep coming back for more. Unfortunately, there isn’t anything new here. On top of that, its too short for its own good. I mean, 4 songs in 3 years? Really? I’m not going to slam the songs themselves, but they really could have done a few more than this. The songs are thoughtful, memorable and above all, somewhat lengthy. I think they could’ve used some of the ideas they had to lengthen some of these songs to create other songs and make this closer to an LP rather than an EP. Though, who knows how long that would have taken them. As a whole, this is a good, albeit short record that had its moments but ultimately missed an opportunity to be more ambitious…7.7/10


 James and Evander: Constellating EP– Even though I review a lot of synth pop around here, sometimes room needs to be made for another… Especially when you’re considering who signed them. I mentioned before that Velvet Blue Music discovered James and Evander and if theres one label who you can trust to sign good synth pop, its them. They may not sign many, but they have a knack of finding some of the best up-and-comers. If Jeff Cloud(formerly of Joy Electric) still has a hand in running the label, hes a name you can trust. So with that in mind, this review becomes less about who they are now and more about who they may become. Looking at this at it’s surface, this is a 3-song EP with 2 remixes. While the songs themselves aren’t particularly groundbreaking, they are really catchy. The songs are somewhat minimalistic with only beats, synth, vocals and occasionally guitar but the way they’re executed is quite endearing. The vocals, for example, are reverbed in the way you’d expect, but when they harmonize with each other, they really shine. They kind of have a Deastro meets Small Black quality to them that will keep me waiting with bated breath for their next release. Overall, this is standard introduction fare with all the elements of promise ahead. Hopefully they’ll be able to execute a proper full-length as effectively…8.4/10