With a cover that’s a clear homage to Power, Corruption, & Lies, one would expect something like New Order’s bouncy electro-pop from Craft Spells’ debut album Idle Labor, and that assumption would be pretty right on. Captured Tracks is trying really hard to make us forget we’re not still living in the 80’s, releasing gem after gem of pop rock inspired by that decade. Idle Labor doesn’t fall too far from the tree, delivering an upbeat album of catchy guitar pop with lo-fi production values and plenty of drum machine and synth. As it follows a now time-honored tradition, it’s a formula that never really gets old anymore. It’s just pulled off more or less well.
Idle Labor is the first Captured Tracks release I’ve heard that leans almost exclusively on one influence, that being New Order. It isn’t an exact replica, though. The whole affair is a little more head-in-the-clouds, and the guitar chords are recorded in a clearer, klangier tone. The low end is there and it is appropriately nimble, but it isn’t mixed high enough to really take control of the songs like Peter Hook’s bass leads did. The lyrics are fairly boilerplate courtship stuff and not much else but, in comparison, they’re not bad enough to rival Bernard Sumner’s horrendously dumb, over-the-top category of bad. But aside from these differences, these songs are put together in much the same way, with tappy and slappy, but unshowy,beats providing a grid for synth, guitar, and bass to dance around each other independently but gracefully. The melodic patterns show striking similarity to New Order as well, the bass notes usually shifting either up or down each measure, and the guitar and synth melodies emitting a high and low note before exploring the middle ground between them.
This is all not to take anything away from Craft Spells’ only member Justin Paul Vallestero’s abilities to craft one heck of a song. He’s done it 11 straight times on his first full-length, with two great pre-release singles pretty much matched in quality by everything else on the full-length. Each track is filled with indelible melodies and hooks sure to have you keeping time with your leg or tapping your toes. But with music like this, singing along is the ultimate litmus test, and unfortunately the non-descriptness of the vocals leaves this album lacking a bit of personality and memorability. Most people looking back on – or wishing they were actually alive during – the last decade of permissibly innocent ignorance have some sore spots, wild dreams, insecurities, and glory days to conjure and, when listening to 80’s inspired music, they expect more than just music that sounds similar to that era or even, like here, with lyrics concerning sore spots, wild dreams, insecurities, and glory days. A singer who sings emotively, humanizing the material in a way that allows a jump-start, or at least a vicarious experience, is what makes this sort of music special. While I’m not sure the dreamy, upbeat music on Idle Labor could be improved, the lack of conviction in the vocals seems to preclude the opportunity for a deeper connection.