Review : How to Dress Well - Total Loss
NmeAfter his pioneering brand of chillwave-R&B took the hipstersphere by storm in 2010, Tom Krell’s luck ran out when, last year, a death in the family left the New Yorker clinically depressed. “The only bad part about flying”, ponders an angelic street kid on ‘Say My Name’, “is having to come back down to the fucking world”. With the realisation that for hope to blossom, a grief-fogged mind needs clarity, on ‘Total Loss’ Krell has emerged blinking from behind chillwave’s anaesthetic shroud. And with nowhere to hide he’s had to develop as a musician. Squired by The xx producer Rodaidh McDonald, this second album is hugely accomplished, traversing skittish Janet Jackson-style ballads, string-laden hymns and neo-soul with ease, while Krell lets his now exposed voice do most of the talking to humbling effect. Add in silky Michael Jackson slowjams and Mariah Carey girlpop, and the result is leftfield R&B’s album of the year....full text
GuardianTom Krell aka How to Dress Well is not your conventional singer/songwriter, nor is he your typical soul boy. There are no acoustic guitars or libidinous wails to be found on this, his second album. Rather, the arty Brooklynite creates haunting R&B soundscapes that end up sounding both arty and emotionally affecting.
Krell first caused a stir thanks to his disjointed songs, which were often spun out of fragments of other popular pop and R&B songs (Ecstasy With Jojo, for instance, was built from wisps of Michael Jackson's Baby Be Mine) and made for an arresting (not to mention critically acclaimed) debut album, Love Remains. Total Loss is the follow up, and as the title suggests is the product of a "very unhappy and confused" period for Krell. The end result sees only a subtle departure in sound, however – the 11 songs here are still ghost-like compositions made all the more ethereal thanks to Krell's falsetto....full text
PitchforkTom Krell has never been shy about naming his influences. On Love Remains, his How to Dress Well debut, they were pop and R&B acts like Ready For the World, Shai, Michael Jackson, and Bobby Brown. He's no less forthcoming about the inspirations behind his heartbreaking second LP, Total Loss. During the penultimate apologia "Set It Right", he provides a roll call: Ryan, Dan, Mama, Grandma, Francey, Robbie, Nicky, and the list goes on. None of them are famous, none are musicians. They're real people in Krell's life. Some have died (his uncle and best friend), others are living but have slipped out of view, many including himself are struggling with depression. So the title Total Loss gives you fair warning about what to expect. Where Love Remains drew much of its power from emotional suggestion and tactile sensation, Total Loss uses the common tools of pop expression-- four-minute songs, autobiography, choruses, confession-- to create a work of poignant and devastating art.
The cruel irony of Total Loss is that it finds Krell striving for directness and candor with family members who've become unavailable to him through breakups, depression, addiction, or death. The record's first lyric-- "You were there for me when I was in trouble/ You could understand for me that life was a struggle"-- is addressed to Krell's mother and reprised later on. Otherwise, the listener is in the position of the "you" populating so many of Krell's thoughts.
The sleek, alabaster sound of Total Loss is a far cry from the heavily distorted and distant Love Remains. That album wasn't considered a drug record for the same reasons Ambien isn't considered recreational, but its shrouded production mimicked the effect the drug can have when it starts to kick in: the sensation of controlling yourself in an out-of-body experience. That feeling is foreign to Total Loss. It's still flooded with reverb, but the anesthetic is gone.
As a result, Total Loss feels subject to heightened sensitivity both sonically and lyrically, and the effect is made more unnerving by the sharp, sudden movements of its elements-- harp plucks, ticking hi-hats, slapped snares and, of course, Krell's own voice. It's high, thin, and boyish, but in no way timid. His quavering falsetto creates an intriguing friction against the newly aggressive, seething tone of his lyrics, particularly when he grapples with the self-blame, hopelessness, and betrayal that survivors of suicide victims often experience. "Say My Name or Say Whatever" begins with a recording of a homeless teen from the 1984 documentary Streetwise describing the freeing effects of flight. "The only bad part about flying," he says, "is having to come back down to the fuckin' world," a projection of Krell's own idealism and disillusionment....full text
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