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Album Review
Idle Labor

Idle Labor
by Craft Spells

Captured Tracks

Review Date
27th April 2011
Reviewed by
Paul Gallagher

The lo-fi dream pop / chill-wave train continues to roll! Craft Spells has a similar sounding back story: Justin Vallesteros spends a certain amount of his time recording tracks by himself in his bedroom in some unassuming cultural backwater of the United States (in this case, the not so major town of Stockton in California) where toiling away could only get him so far before DIY labels and indie gloam bloggers tracked him down and pushed him into ramping things up. It's no surprise that Captured Tracks, run by Blank Dogs centrifuge Mike Sniper, would be the one to sign this kid up; the comparisons to label mates Wild Nothing and Beach Fossils are obvious, considering both the music they all produce and their eerily uniform histories.


But while this may all sound like a good trick grown tired, it is in fact a surprising discovery to find that Craft Spells seems fresh and willing. 'Idle Labor' has an incredible amount of energy, much like the 1980s pop and 1990s DIY ethics from which it's derived. You can tell there's craft within the music, with a certain level of sweat-sheen similar to that of a Jane Fonda Workout cassette found at a thrift store. Rinsed, drifting vocals, tinny drumbeats, jangly riffs and a weighted, measured use of synth are all components of the modus operandi here. 

'The Fog Rose High' is a notable track that evokes a more dreamier, less melancholic Magnetic Fields. Even the lowest points on this record are quite enjoyable listens - 'Party Talk' (also released as a 7-inch last year) usurps many others that have tried to adopt the two dimensional Casiotone For The Painfully Alone formula, but despite being intended as one of the lead tracks it's actually in turn overtaken by many of the album's other offerings. If you like real music similar to say, the Cure or Cocteau Twins, then you really will enjoy this band's output - with tracks like 'From the Morning Heat' and 'Your Tomb' acting as convincing modern substitutes for lost b-sides from Disintegration or Heaven or Las Vegas. 

Love is never far from the mind here, and that's adorably saccharine and painfully obvious with 'Scandinavian Crush' which could be annoyingly wistful with it's New Order drumbeat-driven lyrics of 'I've been hoping, I've been praying for a girl like you to come around'. But it's so earnest and endearing that even something as sugary as that works to be uplifting. 

The great thing about 'Idle Labor' is that it essentially isn't that; it's an impressively well-crafted pop album which succeeds wholly to bring new energy to a tried and true sound and sensibilities that existed some twenty or more years ago. It doesn't sound aged, and certainly shouldn't be thought of negatively as being derivative. This is an album which is packed to the brim with eagerness and energy, which moves away from the drearier side of the 'chillwave' shoegaze-rehash buzz by injecting infectious synth lines into the mix. It really has seemed impossible in recent days not to keep playing Craft Spells, which could give way to a really corny pun of sorts about magic to fittingly end this review with but I'm not going to give you all that pleasure. 


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