Craft Spells - After the Moment by The Triangle Boy published on 2011/04/08 17:32:51 +0000 Working under the name Craft Spells, Stockton, Calif.'s Justin Vallesteros makes music for bedsitters who dream about being social. Though often addressed to a love interest either real or imagined, Idle Labor is above all a lonely album that rarely betrays its origin as a solo project. Sonically it recalls Wild Nothing it the way it mines a large swath of 1980s synth pop, but its clear emotional tenor gives it a distinguishing perspective and personality. Idle Labor exists in a time frame best described by the title of its ebullient centerpiece-- "After the Moment". These are sketches of romantic problems and solutions with the wounds still fresh and the thoughts uncensored. Taken as a whole, it could be read as a narrative following Vallesteros from heartbreak to infatuation and back, a few months' worth of romantic uncertainty boiled down to a taut and hooky album. In a maundering yearn somewhere between Jens Lekman and Ian Curtis, Vallesteros introduces himself as a lovelorn melodramatist over sunstroked, near-Balearic pop. But as the narrative begins to hint at physical contact, the music works in lockstep, and Vallestreros builds tracks more as a dance producer than a singer-songwriter. And that's where he hits his stride-- while his vocals remain a central fixture, the post-punk mordancy is softened by locomotive arrangements that stack synth pads, ringing guitar, and primitive drum programming. "Party Talk" starts a mid-album mini-suite with Vallesteros as a nebbishy Woody Allen character trying to decode a mutual romantic connection from casual conversation. But he leaps forward during the upbeat "From the Morning Heat", and by the fantastic morning-after celebration "After the Moment", something has apparently clicked; Vallesteros repeats the chorus as if he knows it's the best he's written. The emotional high is predictably short-lived, and even within its brief half-hour runtime, more than a few of the melodies take detours and left turns. "The Fog Rose High" has the feel of a gothier Beach Fossils, while the anodyne dream-pop scruff of "You Should Close the Door" could have been a Radio Dept. B-side. But as with so many bedroom auteurs' debuts, it's tough to separate the creation from the creator, and Idle Labor shows the promise of a precocious songwriter who isn't claiming to have anything totally figured out just yet.