- SPIN Rating:7 of 10
Label: Captured Tracks
We live in a society where illness is pathologized and detoxification is a business, hinged on the quick fix instead of promoting holistic wellness. With Nausea, Craft Spells frame malady in a different way: Maybe it's not such a bad thing to listen to these queasy feelings, like the need to be alone, as they can spur us to seek the internal change that truly causes grief.
Craft Spells debuted with the poignant "Party Talk"/"Ramona" EP. Headed by songwriting wizard Justin Vallesteros, the band originated in Stockton, CA, before a brief spell in Seattle, then down again to San Francisco. During that time, Craft Spells added Anna Luxx Ryon on synths, Jack Doyle Smith on bass and Peter Michel on drums before releasing 2011 full-length Idle Labor, a bewitching collection of synth-driven bedroom pop songs.
Several years later, Craft Spells' sophomore album finds the band conjuring a woozy yet surefooted sound, with lyrics that speak to intense feelings of insecurity and the begrudging acceptance of change. Fittingly, Nausea was created in a solitary space. Vallesteros consciously detached himself from life in San Francisco, taking up with his parents to seek out the peace he couldn't find in city life. "Is it so strange to be alone?" he asks on the album's title track, addressing a society that equates sociability with health. "I wouldn't listen, for what it's worth," he retorts in the very next phrase.
Isolationism seems to have worked for Vallesteros, as the resulting music shimmers. The three-year progression from Idle Labor to Nausea is remarkable; you can hear the former's seedlings of ideas bloom into an electric live band that never upstages Vallesteros' yearning vocals, the centerpiece of Craft Spells.
Still, the instruments here—particularly the percussion of "Dwindle" and the bombastic strings in "Breaking the Angle Against the Tide"—add serious depth without disrupting any of the arrangements' simplistic charm. The triumphant "Twirl" even gets downright groovy on the keys while Vallesteros croons: "I don't know what to do," with his bleeding heart in his hands. But it is said the first step to recovery is addressing an issue first-hand, and "Changing Faces" accepts the inevitability of shifting lives, including Vallesteros' own: "I've been changing faces, watching my time cave in slow."
Where Craft Spells' previous release felt a bit lackadaisical, the more self-aware Nausea, with its themes of growth echoed in its synth crescendos, sports ambition. Craft Spells eschew the fantasy universe of Idle Labor in order to focus on worldly problems, such as illness and paranoia. Nausea's thesis is that taking time to reflect within is an effective step in itself. "As you stand still, you realize where you are in the world," Vallesteros contemplates on "Komorebi," a title stemming from the Japanese phrase describing the way that sunlight filters through trees. The interplay between light and leaves is less a transaction and more a form of reciprocity. However small its impact, the reflective Nausea nudges toward creating that very coexistence between the talkers and the taciturn, the sick and the sturdy, the trusting and the troubled.