In just a few months, Captured Tracks has built one of the best displays of the new wave of indie bands, and the label did it on its own. It’s not for nothing that it has some of the cream of the crop in its ranks – The Soft Moon, Blank Dogs, Wild Nothing and Beach Fossils, to name but a few. In that light, we should ask ourselves this: would we pay attention to a band like Craft Spells, had they not emerged s part of the Brooklyn label’s stable? The answer is a loud yes. If Captured Tracks wouldn’t have signed them, Mexican Summer, Lefse or Jagjaguwar would.
The story behind Craft Spells is widely known, as it’s the same as that of many other young producers causing a stir from coast to coast in the USA. Justin Paul Vallesteros is the brain behind this project, which started during the winter of 2009 in California, when he locked himself in his room, switched off his mobile phone and started to compose songs. Like the lover of synthetic and dreamy pop that he is, he tried to emulate his heroes and the result of that can be heard on “Idle Labor” (although he had already released some 7”s prior to that).
Both the release date and the artwork are perfect for the music created by Craft Spells, bright pop, very appropriate for the sunny start of spring. A good example is “Party Talk”, with its beachy, tropical feel. But without a doubt, the leitmotiv on this effort are love and nostalgia. “If not tomorrow, when will it be? / When can I see you, please?”, sings Vallesteros in the chorus of the exciting “Scandinavian Crush”. “Idle Labor” is full of invigorating pieces like “From The Morning Heat”, the bassline of which evokes the golden age of New Order. Because this is a record on which the rhythm section is very important.
The spectral, but not dark, tone, of “The Fog Rose High” is close to The Cure. Directly responsible for this dreamy aura is the voice of Vallesteros, which is reminiscent of Morrissey’s. Equally serious but less upset, more blurry, scattered, passed through that lo-fi filtered that is so in fashion these days. But the similarities with The Smiths don’t end here, as, musically, “Your Tomb” leaves a slight aftertaste of “Still Ill”.
Although the frame of the songs is made of playful guitars, unstoppable drums, hyperactive basslines and a range of effects like reverb, there’s also room for other instruments, like the organ. It’s on the background on “Ramona” and it sounds like they borrowed it from Beach House. “Idle Labor” is an album that’s easily digestible. Regular like few are, it hardly has any ups or downs, although “After The Moment” is the absolute standout track, an indie anthem if ever there was one. The only objection one could have to the record is that it should have been released earlier, as it’s not as surprising as the respective debut albums of Twin Shadow and Wild Nothing, less than one year ago. The element of surprise has worn thin a bit now, but that shouldn’t stop us from enjoying this collection of very danceable songs.
Álvaro García Montoliu