Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Album Review: How To Dress Well - Total Loss
How To Dress Well
There is a telling moment midway through How To Dress Well's (a.k.a. Tom Krell) second album Total Loss on the track "Say My Name Or Say Whatever" which features a sample of a kid talking about how the worst part of flying is when you have to come back down to earth. As the kid's voice trails off, you hear the sound of a splash of water, as if the kid has jumped off a precipice, unable to deal with being earthbound. Total Loss is a very earthbound record, in the sense that Krell's songs are intimate moments and details of familial and personal relationships that are torn and tattered and barely hanging on. It is a haunting and sad record that lingers long in the mind afterwards. Still mining his 90's R&B influences, Krell ups the production values significantly from Love Remains, which at times could be overcome by an almost suffocating claustrophobia. Total Loss is a smoother, more inviting record, but doesn't sacrifice any of Krell's vision.
Starting off with the lonely "When I Was In Trouble," Krell pleads to his mother to help care for him again, crying out "dear mama, did you try to tell me everything was gonna be safe/dear mama, did you tell me everything was gonna be right/
and now I got these visions of you waiting outside." Krell's voice is pushed out in front of the mix for the first time and not buried under tons of reverb. It is a breathtaking moment on a frequently breathtaking record.
On the eloquent "Talking To You," a list of real people Krell knew and/or knows becomes a healing mantra, provided comfort for people he has lost and misses.
"Struggle" finds Krell's delicate falsetto buried under a fog of effects, the airy synths and skittering drum programming pushing and pulling it through the track.
While the tone and subject matter of the album is frequently bleak and melancholy, there are genuine moments of pure beauty here that are wisely used at key moments, keeping the record from descending into a murk. Mid record instrumental "World I Need You, Won't Be Without You (Proem)" is a gorgeous, string-laden track that soars when it is most needed.
"How Many?" floats on a bed of twinkling keyboards and synths as subtle drum programming undulates in the background.
But overall the record stays within the same air of sadness. "Cold Nites"
while working its New Jack strut is a fairly despondent song, as a relationship unravels and the couple finds themselves going through the motions, singing "But I keep on doing it/ Ain't gonna stop until we're through with this."
"Running Back" slinks along in an early morning haze of regret.
While closing track "Set It Right" almost goes over the line into overblown territory, Krell is talented enough to keep the track online, letting the mix of swooning synths and vocals samples work with his heavily treated vocals.
From a thematic level, Total Loss's world of insularity and introspection can seem like a step back at times in comparison with Krell's debut album, however, the light year jump in production values makes this a minor quibble. In these days of musical excess, it is nice to see artists like Krell dial things back and make more personal statements. Total Loss is an outstanding sophomore record that further shines the spotlight on this amazing talent.
Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.
Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.
Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.
Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.
Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.
Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.
Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.