Craft Spells, the pseudonym of Justin Vallesteros of Stockton, started off initially as a solo bedroom project, so it should come as no surprise that a morose sense of isolation underlies the synth-laden dream-Balearic pop soundscapes he creates. He returns to San Francisco for a show at Rickshaw Stop on August 25.
Idle Labor—released in April on Captured Tracks (home to similar artists Minks and Wild Nothing)—assembled Vallesteros’s meditative output; the album adeptly fuses together the lofty sounds of New Order at their most lugubrious and sunny, jangly, Scandinavian twee of the same ilk that Labrador Records has been putting out for years.
Clocking in at close to a half hour, Idle Labor is an extraordinarily capacious effort and intensely appealing in its own melancholy, earnest way.
On the album opener, “For the Ages,” Vallesteros tragically proclaims, “even though our love has died, / you’re still mine.” From there, he traces a nostalgic dream in flashback: he recalls a budding (imagined or real?) but ultimately doomed relationship from start to finish sans the palliation, making the emotional nadirs and apogees that much more acute.
At their last appearance in San Francisco at Slim’s back in May as a supporting act for goth-surf act Beach Fossils, Vallesteros and company proved—with atmospheric yet jaunty flair—the permeating danceability of these tracks. “Scandanavian Crush” akin to the Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s “Gothenburg Handshake” lends praise to Gothenburg acts The Tough Alliance and Air France with twinkling xylophone interleaving with infectious beatbox rhythms.
Single “Party Talk” shimmers and shakes with an ethereal quality that mimics the emergence of sunshine after cloudburst. Brooding pipe organs and resounding guitar on “Ramona” furnishes diversity and contrasts nicely with the tense post-punk riffs and wintery exasperation of “Given the Time.”
With plenty of hooks and memorable turns of phrase, Craft Spells deliver a romantic jeremiad that even the most blasé may find unobjectionable. Check out Craft Spells with dark-wave and industrial enthusiast Luis Vasquez of The Soft Moon. Vasquez, an acolyte of the bleak sounds of such acts as Joy Division, Bauhaus, and The Birthday Party, makes ominously icy but satisfying tunes that are dark but not entirely inaccessible.
Craft Spells and The Soft Moon perform at Rickshaw Stop on August 25. Tickets are $10.