Craft Spells, over the past three years, has gone through a lot of changes. And now Justin Vallesteros and crew are back with Nausea, the first Craft Spells album since the band’s 2011 debut, Idle Labor. In that time, Vallesteros moved to San Francisco, suffered from a bout of writer’s block, moved back in with his parents, took a guitar hiatus and trained himself to play the piano. Though that sense of unrooted restlessness and isolation seeps through on this LP, it’s the piano which seems to have had the greatest effect on Craft Spells’ sound. The album was written entirely on the piano; a move which, when lined up against the rest of the Craft Spells discography, must take some credit for Nausea’s airier, crisper sound.
The album’s single, Breaking The Angle Against The Tide, jumps and twists from the start—there’s a lack of woozy foreplay not usually seen in Vallesteros’s work—a spritely piano layered with a chorus of strings and eagerly quick percussion. It’s the strongest song on the LP, and its placement as the penultimate track renders it an unexpected spark near Nausea‘s end.
The crux of Craft Spells’ sound has always been its gauzy, over-filtered dream pop. This much remains the same. Take, for example, Vallesteros’s winding, leaking vocals on Dwindle, or the prodding, effervescent guitars on Twirl, or the climbing, glittered keys on album highlight Komorebi. But there’s an added confidence here too. The lengthy instrumental noodling in Laughing For My Life; the subtle string screeches on First Snow; the organic, found-sound instrumental Still Fields (October 10, 1987) that Vallesteros chose to end the album.
Overall though, this is a Craft Spells album. It’s what they started doing well and what they’ll probably continue doing well. The evolution is slight but impressive, and worth taking note of. When Vallesteros will get his deserved day in the sun is probably a matter of timing and saturation. But Nausea is a nice little secret to have in the meantime.