Craft Spells vs. Whiskey River

Why the Seattle band will make you want to be anything but idle.

Justin Vallesteros ducks his head when he sings. He's shy about his voice, but he shouldn't be—it's sonorous, with a natural boom to it, like Ian Curtis'. During an impromptu performance in a friend's living room, Vallesteros strums his guitar and sings, "As dark as my heart gets/I'm not alone," while the rest of his band, Craft Spells, sits on a couch across from him—Jack Doyle Smith (who, in the interest of full disclosure, is my boyfriend's brother) plays the bass, Javier Suarez picks out a licking flame of a guitar melody, and Peter Michel plays a homemade drum set consisting of two kitchen pots and a math book that he stomps on like a kick drum. When all four of them sing, the harmonies are airy and fluid.

Vallesteros has been recording music as Craft Spells for two years, but this lineup is new to him. After writing and recording his first full-length, Idle Labor, which New York label Captured Tracks released yesterday, he moved from Stockton, Calif., to Seattle, where he was born, in order to live in the same city as Smith, whom he met on MySpace. The two then recruited Suarez and Michel, and Craft Spells' latest incarnation, of which Vallesteros says he's confident, was formed.

"Javier and I were watching Let It Be last night, and I was like, the Beatles were just four good lads who were good at their instruments," he says. "That's what we are. That's all it takes."

Vallesteros says he wrote and recorded Idle Labor while depressed—he'd just broken up with a girlfriend and was working a dead-end job photoshopping the acne out of high-school glamour shots. Craft Spells songs have a foggy tone and sometimes melancholy subject matter—when Vallesteros sings, "I feel the need to go/And distance is the goal . . . Nothing against you, but you dragged for too long," he sounds as if he could be singing about that dark phase of his own life, rather than a different person.

But Vallesteros says he found beauty in the isolation that depression allowed him, and combined the gloom with hooky guitar and synth lines to create a sublime form of dance-rock—the two tracks that have been floating around the Internet, "Party Talk" and "After the Moment," are both delicate but inescapably catchy. (The obvious reference point is New Order, whom Vallesteros has idolized for years.)

The alone time is over—Vallesteros is now collaborating with his three bandmates to promote Idle Labor. In a currently folk-obsessed city, Craft Spells is a much-needed tonic for those beginning to tire of fiddles and songs about Whiskey River. The band recently played their first Seattle show at the Cairo Gallery, and worked up an electric energy in the crowded room.

"It's true that not a lot of people are making music that sounds much like us," says Smith. "However, people have been accepting towards our sound so far . . . We can only hope that this style of music will become even more popular."

"Most of the music in Seattle is too damn slow and carbon-copied," adds Vallesteros. "I think they are ready for our sound."

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