Not all of Seattle's best musicians are longtime residents. Some, like Justin Vallesteros of fawned-over bedroom pop act Craft Spells, have lived here for only a few months. But despite his lack of local know-how (he has a roommate who works at Easy Street Records, but he doesn't know which one or where either of them are), Vallesteros should be embraced with the kind of lusty anticipation bestowed upon freshly inked sports-team signings. Stereogum recently declared his group one of its "18 Dark Bands to Watch in 2011," and when Craft Spells' debut LP dropped in March, reviews were positive and the word of mouth glowing.
Prior to 2011, Vallesteros was living in Stockton, California, where the population is less than half that of Seattle. Just after Vallesteros relocated—at the behest of his label, Captured Tracks, which wanted him to embrace and be embraced by the Puget Sound scene—Forbes put Stockton at the top of its "America's Most Miserable Cities" list for the second year in a row.
While he performed sparingly in his hometown, 23-year-old Vallesteros is plenty experienced now. When Craft Spells play Chop Suey, they'll have just completed 20 out of a 22-date North American tour. It'll be only the third time he's performed on his (new) home turf.
The album they're touring behind, Idle Labor, is as lyrically resonant as it is sonically rich. Vallesteros's canny pop instincts and relatable thematic concerns helped early lo-fi demos percolate in the blogosphere despite his aversion to self-promotion.
"The music took care of itself," Vallesteros says. "It was all natural. Everyone feels better that we didn't push it down anyone's throats or anything."
Outgoing but bashful, diminutive, soft-spoken, and never conceited, Vallesteros doesn't carry himself like an ascendant indie star. The young savant knows which drum-pad hand claps are ideal for achieving a Dilla-esque texture and which songs by English sophisti-pop band Prefab Sprout sound like proto-chillwave grooves, but he has no explanation for his newfound fame and popularity. At the local level, he's still a rookie, but his talent is major league.