Review: Craft Spells - "Nausea"

Craft Spells - Nausea
(2014 Captured Tracks)

It's not often an independent label breaks the milestone of even one hundred releases, and it takes a truly exceptional one to leap from that benchmark with as much, if not more vitality and fresh output as it possessed in its more formative years. As Brooklyn imprint Captured Tracks gears up for its upcoming release, Craft Spells' sophomore album titled Nausea, which just happens to catalog number 200, they've marked a point at which fans look back at a prodigious label's history of nearly six years. Craft Spells is the perfect vehicle for such a trip down memory lane. Justin Vallesteros' dream-pop quartet, like many other Captured Tracks veterans such as Wild Nothing and Minks, has reached a healthy young adulthood. It is mature enough to curb inclinations toward extremes; Nausea neither naively clings to pop immediacy like a crutch, nor does it stoop to pretension. But that's not to say the album's maturity masks the charm and energy of its predecessor. Rather, it builds on the debut's coy, c86-inspired delivery by resting it atop a base of creamy baroque pop, a technique deftly employed by Jack Tatum on Wild Nothing's 2012 effort Nocturne. In further layering and reconstructing its sound, Craft Spells' former shyness becomes a Nausea, the panic of existence.

As Wild Nothing's soaring string arrangements took to illustrate the night sky on Nocturne and DIIV's liquescent guitars mirrored the uniform immensity of the Oshin, Craft Spells' Nausea comprises the land in the Captured Tracks landscape. The strings groan with a certain earthiness, forming a plot suitable to house the garden's worth of lush piano and vibrant pentatonic keyboard that Vallesteros' arrangements call for. In fact, I'd even say that the sparkling guitars that formed the core of Idle Labor in 2011 are often merely an accent to the solid, nearly-orchestral arrangements that appear throughout Nausea. The opening title track's electric piano throbs with a sort of nostalgic melancholia that pervades the album, the apathy that comes with growing older. We hear these touches of frosty sadness in the flautal keyboards that float over "Komorebi" and in the suave trip-hop soundscape of "If I Could". Combining the jazz-tinged danceability of Heavenly Beat, the crackly singer-songwriter warmth of Chris Cohen and the dreaminess of just about every artist on the imprint, Craft Spells' Nausea might just be what sets the tone for the next hundred Captured Tracks releases while still "crafting" its own unique image.