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Matson on Music

Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

July 26, 2012 at 8:07 AM

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Tomorrow is now for Craft Spells

Squinting in midday sunlight backstage at the Sasquatch Music Festival, short, compact, bespectacled 24-year-old singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer Justin Vallesteros criticizes his band Craft Spells' recent EP, "Gallery":

"It's me not really going outside my box."

That was the general consensus. Pitchfork.com said the same thing.

He means "Gallery" goes back to the well of now-again popular British post-punk music from the 1970s and '80s — which heavily influenced Craft Spells' previous album, "Idle Labor." It's all the rage with kids these days, again.

But the next one will be different, he says, sounding confident, handing me earbuds plugged into his iPhone. Through tiny speakers, Craft Spells' second album explodes outward. Sparkling guitar notes weave through disco drums.

Vallesteros may be onto something.

Fans will probably get their own preview Saturday at the Neptune, when Craft Spells plays with Dum Dum Girls — a "Little Big Show" benefit concert for the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY), presented by Starbucks, KEXP and Seattle Theatre Group.

For the unfamiliar, a short history of Craft Spells' music: "Idle Labor" is the still-lovely debut album from 2011, written, arranged and recorded by Vallesteros alone in Stockton, Calif. It remains a tidy, melancholy, blissful party record that doesn't wear out its welcome after repeated listens. Good background music, good foreground music. His throwback style was right on time and Vallesteros a better songwriter than his peers. When he moved to Seattle and formed a band here, it was a big acquisition for the city's pop music scene. It made "Idle Labor" a local album, in part.

"It was a demo submission," says Mike Sniper on the phone from New York City, head of Captured Tracks, Craft Spells' record label. "There are a lot of bands that mine that territory — [sounding like] The Wake, New Order. But it's not that big a deal to me if band's super innovative. To me it's about the song."

Touring hard behind "Idle Labor," Craft Spells developed a tightly coiled stage show. Songs like "After the Moment" and "Party Talk" became anthems.

Then "Gallery" came out, did not deviate from "Idle Labor," and nothing changed. Craft Spells awaits its next chapter.

And now with a new drummer who has become a big part of the live show (Seattle's hard-hitting Andy Lum), and Vallesteros relocated to San Francisco, writing that next chapter — and with Craft Spells in prime playing shape — the time for tomorrow is now.


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