By Joe Goggins
How to Dress Well
Released: September 18, 2012
Timing is everything, apparently, and in that respect, it’s difficult to envisage a more opportune time for How to Dress Well – the stage name of musician Tom Krell – to release his sophomore record, Total Loss.
The album wings its way into the wider world at a time when, in many alternative circles, this kind of music is considered de rigueur – this bare, electronically-driven take on R&B is underscoring the albums that the likes of Frank Ocean, The xx and The Weekend have been making. Interestingly, Krell commented recently that much of what he describes as ‘indie R&B’ is “ready to be played at Urban Outfitters” rather than “experienced in any meaningful way”. He could be alluding to the often baffling success of some of the above artists’ laid-back lyricism in the face of an ever more uncertain world, or to the impact of circumstances surrounding Total Loss.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the title, this is a record fuelled by personal turmoil – the sudden deaths of Krell’s best friend and uncle, and the collapse of a long-term relationship – and this might explain why he’s chosen to do away with the lo-fi vocals of his debut, Love Remains, allowing his sombre lyrics to take centre stage.
There’s a strong feeling of catharsis throughout; ‘Talking to You’ and closer ‘Ocean Floor for Everything’ suggest Krell trying to overcome his troubles rather than wallow in them. As seems obligatory for the genre, Total Loss is a sonically-gorgeous record; the distortion and fuzz of the first LP have been stripped away in favour of a much cleaner production method, Krell’s ghostly falsetto drifting over minimalist beats and augmented by diverse instrumentation, making for a much glossier, more polished affair.
There’s undeniably moments where the album falls into a common trap for records as understated as this; ‘Struggle’ and ‘Running Back’ both meander, symptomatic of an occasional struggle on Krell’s part to underpin his soundscapes without the use of a rhythm section.
As easy as it’d be to lose yourself in Total Loss from an aural perspective, you’d be missing out on the formidable emotive punch that it packs. Unlike some of his more vacuous contemporaries, How to Dress Well hasn’t produced an ‘indie R&B’ album – this is soul music.
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