Playing on Prefix is a feature on KCRW’s Music Blog in which writers from the eclectic music site Prefix hip you to what’s coming out of their computer speakers each week
Wish you had a Wild Nothing-like band you could play at parties, and tired of all your old New Order records?
Craft Spells have got you covered. They play the kind of dance pop that nobody who actually likes dancing enjoys, which is fine: Craft Spells– the one-man bedroom project of Stockton, California’s Justin Vallesteros– are aiming for the kids in the corner, the ones half-drunk on wine and feeling way nostalgic.
“Idle Labor”, Vallesteros’ debut, is yet another album that is musically and lyrically obsessed with nostalgia from a label (Captured Tracks) that seems to traffic in nothing but.
Like label-mates Minks and Wild Nothing (and Beach Fossils and Blouse and Soft Moon), Vallesteros uses the language of new wave to express his longing/desire/listlessness/etc. That means loads of reverb, the guitar tone Bernard Sumner perfected somewhere around “Power, Corruption and Lies” (which this album’s cover not-so-subtly references) and lyrics that are both vague and uniformly about girls.
Or, it would seem, one specific girl. “Idle Labor” functions as something of a concept album–call it “Scenes From a Record Collector’s Marriage” (or one night stand, it’s hard to tell).
It starts at the beginning, with Vallesteros intoning “even though our love has gone you’re still mine,” and from there goes on to detail in gilded slow-motion the rise and fall of the relationship at hand. The titles say it all: “Party Talk,” “From the Morning Light,” “After the Moment.”
Throughout, Vallesteros sounds like Ian Curtis, if Ian Curtis had survived his suicide attempt with brain damage that left him dreamily brooding at all times. None of it’s revelatory, but all of it is beautiful (particularly “Given the Time“).
It’s like Craft Spells and their labelmates are in a competition to see who can make the dreamiest record imaginable. For the moment, Craft Spells seem to be winning.
by Daniel Kolitz