Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Review: Craft Spells Fails to Deliver with 'Nausea'

 by Dustin van Wyk

Having first gained attention with his woozy guitar-driven nostalgic pop records, California based dream pop maestro Justin Vallesteros has returned with Craft Spells’s long overdue sophomore effort, Nausea, a record that sees him shedding his naive production tricks for something more mature and organic by making use of actual studio space and taking production cues from producers to help flesh out and expand Craft Spells's sound.

Nausea follows 2011 debut effort Idle Labor with a sonically more layered and dense approach, where light string arrangements and swelling synths replace the multi-tracked guitars and stoic drum machines. Lyrically, Justin’s introverted subject matter continues to be his main focus, with the addition of his new distain of the influence of social media on his life after the musical ‘fame’ he acquired three years ago.

Shy opener "Nausea" starts the record cautiously with its tame piano progressions and psyched out guitar phrases that allow Justin to pick up where he left off, musing over hazy nostalgic imaginary. With his new approach, instrumentally, it brings to light an issue that plagues the entire record as the vivid arrangements highlight Justin’s humdrum and sleepy vocal delivery that becomes monotonous as the record unfolds, making each track initially indefinable from the next. Where trip hop laden "If I Could" sees his expressions straddling over dusty hip hop drum loops and dark buzzing synth bass lines, and the wanderlust-themed "Breaking the Angle" sprinkles in acoustic melodies over Johnny Marr-esque guitar gimmicks, both tracks are stifled by the vocals' sedated approach as they tend to fade into the mix, competing for space among the other instruments.

Lead single and album highlight "Korembi" shows all the elements working perfectly as its elegant romanticism is sweetened with swirling woodwind melodies that are cocooned by light piano refrains, while "Twirl" helps fills out the numbers of the record with its post punk antics as it sees Justin’s retrospective lyricism carried by modulated guitar hooks and deep organ bass lines mixed in the background..

While the record is satisfactory as a whole, it lacks the bravery and exploration that one would expect from a young musician. The record sees Craft Spells taking a step back, falling deeper into the shadows of its influences rather than capitalising on these sounds to create something entirely new and novel.