Craft Spells - Gallery [EP]
There is an age old argument that seems to run within people who care even the slightest about music: Originality vs style. Team Originality would say (for example) that bands like Iceage and Eagulls are rubbish because many of their chord progressions are not dissimilar to many mid-70s punk rock bands. Team Style would argue that the actual melodic structure of the song is nowhere near as important as tonal decisions on a record or just the general energy of the band. I am undecided where I stand but it is apparent that Craft Spells sure do like New Order and the work of other Factory Records artists. Riding a wave of recent interest in dream- pop, (sparked by fantastic releases in recent years from bands like M83, The Radio Dept. and Wild Nothing), the Californian quartet return after their 2011 debut album Idle Labour which received a great deal of positive press and a 9/10 from this very website. Now we finally get to find out if Idle Labour was a fluke or whether Craft Spells have what it takes to become a mainstay of the current, ever-effectuated dream poppers.
Really on this EP you just get business as usual from these guys: hazy guitar lines with some hazy synths over the top and some hazy vocals… (you get the idea). Though I may sound like a sceptic you can't fault the band for doing what they do extremely well. The single 'Still Left with Me' has that signature infectiousness found on most Craft Spells tracks. Justin Paul Vallesteros voice sounds as angelic and euphonious as always. His voice seems to be filtered less to give his croons more weight than high heavily frequency-restricted vocal melodies on Idle Labour and it is a welcome change. The inclusion of drummer Andy Lum has stepped up the bands sonic scope especially on tracks like 'Burst' where the drums stutter along much like a teenage boy's heartbeat on seeing his high school crush, something that would probably appeal to Vallestero considerably.
Gallery picks up where Idle Labour left off with little in the way of experimentation or diversion from that album's sound. These 6 tracks could work equally well as bonus tracks to their 2011 album. To give credit where it is due as songwriters these guys are extremely good at pulling those heartstrings and getting you moving but I can't help but feel like I am being fooled into thinking I am listening to six songs when in reality pretty much every song here uses very similar dynamics and the same family of effects though the end result is always enjoyable. 'Leave my Shadow' is the one exception and I found it left me unfortunately under whelmed. The song still has its merits and is extremely catchy but the energy which the love-struck group usually has seems to slip slightly with this slower track.
One thing that is starting to get on my nerves is this idea that many bands going for a similar aesthetic to Craft Spells get in their head that the vocals need to be intangibly mixed within the song so they can barely be heard or understood. Not that you are missing out by not catching the lyrics with gems like "This night's our song/ I really like you/ Let's get away" in the song 'Burst' but all the same I want to be able to judge for myself on first listen not with a close deciphering of syllables.
It's less than coincidental that this EP is coming out in June as this is definitely a summer record. Gallery is a good release and shows that Craft Spells do possess a serious knack for penning a good tune. Maybe it's just that they need some more vigilant editing to make sure that they never have the issue of sounding too samey on a release. There is no doubting that what these four musicians have accomplished on two releases is impressive and hopefully by album II with some time spent in a practice room the band can come out with a more diversified palette of sounds and hopefully unlock the potential that is so tangible within the group.