Review Summary: Out of one abyss and into another
There’s a moment on the vigorous “& It Was You” when it all becomes inescapably clear: Krell has officially transcended all those pesky comparisons that have simultaneously crippled his How To Dress Well project as well as catapulted it into indie-fame. His peers like Justin Vernon (another beautiful falsetto voice shrouded amid a blanket of fog) and Abel Tesfaye (an Rn’B aficionado who isn’t afraid to use old-school hip-hop beats to give his choruses a little more punch) and even dubstep-hero Burial are all touchstones for breakthrough album Love Remains, and rightly so. That being said, it’s heartening that Total Loss
is a more distinctive step past comparisons into territory all his own.
How To Dress Well’s debut was a sleek, immersive experience awash in waves of texture and a moody intensity. Its biggest draw for some and, in my eyes, largest setback was the heavy sense of anonymity that hid Krell’s soulful falsetto beneath layers of lo-fi aesthetic. Saturated and faraway, Love Remains
was the perfect precursor to Total Loss.
In 2012 Krell let’s his voice shine through the shrouds and our less obstructed view of the sorrow, the sweeping strings, and the painful twangs of his falsetto are all the more beautiful because of it.
Back to this transcendental feeling of Total Loss
: it’s an album that abandons many of the tenets that made How To Dress Well so intriguing to many. A bold move, no doubt-- but Total Loss
is an album completely enveloped in abandonment and loss, which isn’t surprising considering the title. Working on the album, inspiration was drawn from the bereavement of a close friend as well as a trying long-distance relationship. It’s not that Total Loss
is doused deeper into the bucket of sorrow than Love Remains
was; it’s just that now it’s that
much clearer. What is
a surprising and distinct aspect of How To Dress Well’s latest is that we’re actually able to understand what Krell is saying. Where aforementioned peers like Justin Vernon have only delved deeper into haze and ambiguity like on Bon Iver, Bon Iver, the lo-fi, detached atmospherics are toned down a notch. Clearer than ever, Krell’s crooning is the highlight.
Make no mistake though; How To Dress Well isn’t all gloom, here. Take, for example, the opening example of “& It Was You,” an energetic number bursting at the seams with bombast, perfectly complementing the dance-y songwriting. Speaking of-- the writing is as creative as ever, but –as before- acts more as a tool used primarily to highlight the heavenly duo of Krell’s falsetto and his enveloping production abilities. The production on Love Remains
was exceedingly impressive, but it also provided a venue for Krell to hide his sensual vocal chords behind. Now that we’re in the clear, How To Dress Well is all the more delectable, and opens his music up to a much wider range of capacities.
As far as single tracks are concerned, the delicate strings of “Talking To You” or the standout production displayed on opener “When I Was In Trouble” are pure highlight material, but the real beauty of Total Loss
is in the amorphous clarity, its ability to wield emotions up down and side to side with such ease. Love Remains was a bit too heavy to accomplish such a task, but the lightness here lends itself to such a task. As a record so hinged on loss and detachment, it only makes sense that How To Dress Well will lose some listeners with what’s destined to be a rather divisive release. Though when “Ocean Floor For Everything” fizzles out into a night sky-like abyss, one thing is clear: Tom Krell can still create the lushest of soundscapes that are as soulful and mesmerizing as ever… here’s to hoping there’s many more to come.