It's a shame Justin Vallesteros went back to recording solo, because touring showed us that he plays best when he plays with others.
Justin Vallesteros found success with his first Craft Spells record, 2011's Idle Labor, but the album truly came alive when he assembled a band to take it on the road. There, the gauzy pop that sounds so in-line with other home-recording artists today, took on its own personality. So it's puzzling that, for the follow-up EP Gallery, Vallesteros has gone back to recording by himself. The elements remain the same -- the guitar tones melt into near shapelessness, keys cut coldly through the haze with hooks, and Vallesteros's echo-treated groan hovers between the two. If the songs can be solid -- opener "Still Left With Me" is a catchy smudge of sounds, and "Sun Trails" clears up his sound to crisp effect -- they also feel like not enough. What really undersells these songs is the lack of a true rhythm section. Basic drum machine beats and nothing other than the most rudimentary bass lines fill out these songs and leave them feeling thin and flat. At nearly five minutes, "Warmth" wears out its welcome and floats away on its own airy excess, while the title track has the same problem finding footing. It's too bad really; the true idle work came out on Gallery, because touring showed us that Vallesteros plays best when he plays with others.