Sometimes it takes awhile for an album to find it’s rightful spot in my brain. It’s not necessarily a “grower” kind of album, as it may immediately be catchy and enjoyable, but sometimes there’s just not enough room in my head for those songs to live and breathe. Or maybe I may not be in the right emotional spot to really dig what’s coming at me at that moment. Or maybe five albums hit in one week and I didn’t really have enough table time with a record so it gets shelved prematurely. The latter is sadly usually the case. That’s the case for Craft Spells’ Nausea, anyways.
I first got into Craft Spells back in 2012 when I heard their Captured Tracks debut Idle Labor. That year I found myself in the throes of a pretty heavy shoegaze/dream pop/post-punk bender and Captured Tracks were putting out all the fixes I needed for that musical addiction. Idle Labor seemed to be this mix of early 80s sounds; stuff you would’ve heard on early Depeche Mode, New Order, IRS, and 4AD releases that your big brother tried hiding from you. Craft Spells, aka Justin Vallesteros, was mining some pretty heavy hitters in order to create his own version of those essential records that came out prior to Reagan’s second term. For me, there was this air of upbeatedness(I trademarked this word last week, btw) that I loved. Vallesteros played all the instruments and his voice was a smooth tenor that delivered these pop-centric tunes with an air of maturity. You felt like you had found some lost album from the neon era, as opposed to some young turk that rummaged through his parents old college records and made his own version.
Fast forward to 2014 and the release of Craft Spells Nausea. 2014 was a crazy year for me. Not like bad crazy or anything, but just crazy. The wife got a new job where she was traveling quite a bit, so I was home with the kids in the summer a lot while mom was down in North Carolina and Kentucky. I’d discovered Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast, which took up many of my afternoons of working out and mowing the lawn, and it was generally a pretty great year for music in my world. The War On Drugs, Real Estate, The Night Terrors, Jakob Skott, Jonas Munk, and a bevy of other heavy hitters put out some of my favorite albums of that year. I preordered the Captured Tracks limited edition version of Nausea when I saw it come up for sale, since I’m weak-kneed when it comes to phrases like “limited edition”, “special edition”, “preorder”, and “limited quantities”. The album arrived and I listened to it a couple times, enjoying it, but then it just sort of got pushed to the side as more goodness showed up in the mail. It eventually made its way into the vault where it sat for nearly three years…until now.
At work on a whim I found Nausea on one of those streaming music sites the kids are always talking about and listened to it whilst doing work things. With the whole job situation getting increasingly stressful I needed something to pull me out of it all. Opening track “Nausea” is this easy, breezy, and calming track that feels like a cross between Alan Parsons Project and OMD on tranquilizers. It has a slow motion quality to it that pulls you into its world. Vallesteros’ voice is really quite perfect for this kind of musical trip. He has an Eric Woolfson thing going on, but without all the melancholy. This track never hit me quite like it has lately. “Komorebi” keeps that vibe going to stunning effect. One of the biggest changes from Idle Labor to Nausea is that Vallesteros has replaced his “guy recording by himself” M.O. with a full band scenario in the studio and it suits him perfectly. There’s a real 70s quality to this album. “Komorebi” is this lush, dreamy track that has the sonic heft of Steely Dan with the wistful vibes of something I can’t quite put my finger on. “Dwindle” sounds like The Smiths in their latter years, before it all came to an end. Vallesteros isn’t quite the drama queen that Morrissey is, but he creates plenty of mood to go on. “Twirl” is a fun little number that grooves and shakes like Tigermilk-era Belle and Sebasitian. It’s a perfect summer day kind of song. “Breaking the Angle Against the Tide” has a bit of that old, dream pop vibe that Craft Spells lived in on Idle Labor, but with a lusher, fuller sound. It’s a great mixture of the musical worlds Justin Vallesteros loves to create in. “Still Fields(October 10, 1987)” is the piano-driven closer. For me, this hints at what Vallesteros could do in the future, which would be film scoring. It has such a cinematic feel to it. It’s quiet, emotive, and full of feeling. I could see this playing over the beginning or ending of a film. Perfect outro music, really.
I’m glad music works on us the way it does. We can’t force it to fit our emotional needs when it’s convenient for us. Sometimes it takes awhile to sink in. Craft Spells’ Nausea wasn’t meant to move me back in 2014. It was meant to move me in 2017. It’s a lush and beautiful album that’s subtle in its impact. It’s my go-to record in the mornings at work now. It silences the noise of frustration and lets me get to it.
So let’s get to it, shall we?