Justin Vallesteros makes music that puts you in a particular place and time. He goes by the band name Craft Spells but like many younger, shy songwriters he’s really the only guy making all that magic and putting it to tape. Idle Labor was Craft Spells debut for the Brooklyn record label Captured Tracks and it showed Vallesteros was a songwriter pulling from the early 80s alternative scene that gave us bands like Depeche Mode, New Order, and a much leaner Cure. Though Craft Spells sounded like party music for a bunch of kids with eyeliner and teased hair there was still an element of loneliness. As upbeat as it sounded, it still had the feeling of a guy alone in his bedroom making soundtracks to non-existent teen films. Three years and one E.P. later Vallesteros returns with one of the most lush and detailed albums you’ll likely hear this year. Nausea is a darkly lit record with the ease of a summer drive and the weight of a painful breakup.
The album opens with the title track and the first thing you notice is the absence of electronic drums and tinkling synths. This is an album created with a band playing together. Justin Vallesteros has assembled musicians to make this album live and breathe. “Nausea” moves and grooves slowly through four and a half minutes as keys create a dizzying effect on the listener. Vallesteros even sings differently this time around. His voice sounding not as low, he gives the vocals a much more lovelorn feel. Then you’re treated to the absolute beauty of “Komorebi”, a melancholy song that is carried along by a string part(possibly keys, possibly the real thing) and piano. Vallesteros’ voice sounds as much an instrument as the piano does, delivering melody and sadness as the exquisite jazz-inflected drums carries the song along. It’s a beautiful song that deserves to be played through the summer and fall on repeat. “Changing Faces” keeps the dreamy vibe going. I have to admit that this song sounds like something Justin Vallesteros’ label mate Jack Tatum would’ve written. Tatum’s Wild Nothing has a similar career path, taking a drastic and wonderful turn on his sophomore album Nocturne. While in no way sounding like Wild Nothing, Vallesteros has gone from a smaller concentrated sound to something much more lush and detailed, like Tatum did. This is a sound that suits Craft Spells sensibility very well.
Nausea is filled with little moments of beauty and detail, melancholy and grief. The Smiths haunt the track “Dwindle” like an unfulfilled ghost. “Twirl” bounces and shakes like the Psychedelic Furs on a sugar rush, and “Breaking the Angle Against the Tide” brings back a little of that 4AD and early 80s Sire releases sound Vallesteros perfected on Idle Labor, with some help from some great-sounding strings. “Still Fields(October 10, 1987)” closes the album on a beautiful and lilting note. It puts you in mind of bands like Tangerine Dream and another Captured Tracks alumni Thieves Like Us; in particular their excellent instrumental album Berlin/Alex.
I can only hope that Justin Paul. Vallesteros reads this at some point so he knows how much this album means to me and others. It’s a beautiful record filled with detail, mood, emotion, and heartache. He’s made a wonderful musical statement. A statement heard loud and clear by these ears.
9.2 out of 10