How To Dress Well // Total Loss // September 17 // Weird World
Before The Weeknd dropped out of nowhere and changed the way we all see R&B, before Drake started building himself up as the purveyor of emo rap, and way before Frank Ocean stole everyone’s heart with his deeper than your typical R&B songs, there was Tom Krell AKA How To Dress Well. A Brooklyn born singer that took the Ariel Pink DIY lo-fi approach and applied it to night time R&B. His debut LP Love Remains still stands as an obelisk among the genre revivalists with a penchant for the sombre. Total Loss is the follow up to Love Remains and this time Krell is playing on someone else playground.
Love Remains was a noisy and rather badly produced ambient R&B record. It didn’t help that it came out around the time when Salem dropped their seminal King Night LP which made the backslash about ambience that much bigger. Dismissed as witch house Love Remains didn’t find a large audience and haven’t made much impact despite having enough hooks to indeed stand as a pop record. Total Loss feels like a result of many nights full of frustrations, the reception of his debut being one of them. Total Loss is pop and we’re not talking Krell’s take on pop here. It is pop music and while a lot of it still hides in the December mist, tracks like Cold Nites and the eyebrow raising & It Was U showcase genuine attempts at conquering the indie R&B audience that might have been unaware of Krell’s existence. It’s all logical when you consider that those two are the singles of the record. Total Loss has its moments, there’s quite a few of them but it’s also the first How To Dress Well release that is willing to compromise.
Total Loss is much better produced which takes away some of the ambient quality from Krell’s debut album. The lack of airy vocals are replaced with lyrics that the listener can actually understand and they are one of the main arguments for Total Loss’ uniqueness. Forget The Weeknd’s downward spiral into the drugs and strip clubs or even Ocean’s lust for the elusive true love. Total Loss is very much the record that you can judge by its cover. The lyrics one here deal with depression, loss of the loved ones and broken friendships. The pop sounds on here might approach you from unusual places but lyrically the record presents itself at face value and plays up straight to the point. You don’t have to be in Krell’s life to connect with the solitude of this record even if it doesn’t feel welcoming. The coldness of the record is clearly intended but it doesn’t always help it. One could argue that Total Loss is front loaded, packing both the brilliant pop songs and touching ambient moments while everything post the string laden World I Need You, Won’t Be Without You (Proem) tends to mix the both worlds together to lesser effect. For a record rising out of the strongest of sadness, too much of Total Loss doesn’t pack a strong punch.
Total Loss displays artistic growth and an ear for pop sensibilities that make Krell one of the most exciting left field R&B artists currently going. Total Loss’ problem is that it messes with the outsider pop a bit too much. The strings on Talking To You make it unnecessary cheesy while & It Was U ignores the mysterious for an attempt to write an ambient leaning Michael Jackson track. Some of the songs still use reverb to hide the lack of interesting ideas. Still, Total Loss helps Krell in the same way that Before Today helped Ariel Pink. It shows that a bedroom innovator is finally adult enough to stop messing around and try to push himself and his music which will show its benefits on his future material. Total Loss could has a steep learning curve but from a record that is focused on the negative, there are a lot of positives to take for Krell and importantly, the unfamiliar listener.