Craft Spells – Gallery [EP] (Captured Tracks/ 2012)
By Charles Agar
Boutique Brooklyn indie label Captured Tracks has quietly been releasing some excellent indie pop records over the past couple of years. From Widowspeak to Soft Moon’s alternately brooding and cacophonous takes on post-punk, the label is assembling an enviable roster of young artists. Craft Spells’ 2011 debut LP Idle Labor perhaps didn’t receive the attention it deserved, but hopefully this six song release will help to rectify that situation, picking up as it does exactly where the debut left off.
Still only 24 years old, Craft Spells’ main man Justin Vallesteros displays a deft command of pop arrangement, weaving wistful melodies through his sparkling synth textures and crisp guitar lines. Although there’s no obvious leap forward in sound or technique on Gallery, it seems churlish to complain when the hook count is so high, and the songs so well executed. In this modern age of increased home recording, almost anyone can fling together a record in their bedroom and have it out on the net before tea time but Vallesteros has the patience and instinctive pop nous to make it sound cohesive and exciting.
Indeed, the energy level and tempos are high throughout, only easing off slightly at the end with the title track. Vallesteros’ voice projects a kind of innocent naivety over charmingly rickety drum machines and keening bass lines. While individual words can sometimes be hard to discern, his modest delivery actually functions well by coating the songs in another layer of indistinct but exquisite melancholy. The overall effect pitches the record somewhere between The Field Mice’s reflective, lovelorn pop and mid 80s Cure at their upbeat, MTV-flirting prime. ‘Sun Trails’ is opened with an addictively bouncy synth pattern that would sound snugly at home on 1985’s The Head on the Door album, replete with treated vocal yelps that again recall Robert Smith’s approach. Elsewhere the sweeping lead guitar figure of ‘Leave my Shadow’ transcends seamlessly into the clipped, brisk home-made disco of the verses.
It doesn’t even matter that Vallesteros’ lyrics can look rather bland on paper – when he sings “I really like you, would you like to get away” just before the arrival of another head-rush inducing synth build during ‘Burst’, it sounds utterly convincing.
Most bands utilise the EP format as a house-cleaning assignment to round up those odd tracks that would sound out of place on their main albums, or as water-testing exercises in experimentation. Craft Spells, on the other hand, exceed the expectations of the form by packing Gallery with solid tunes that gel together and never overstay their welcome, evolving the band’s sound ever so slightly in the process. As such Vallesteros looks set for a promising future. If he can sustain this quality of pop composition over the course of a full length release, we’re in for something special indeed.
Further Listening / Similar Records:
The Radio Dept. – Clinging to a Scheme (Labrador, 2010)
Wild Nothing – Gemini (Captured Tracks, 2010)
The Wake – Here Comes Everybody (LTM, 1985)