How To Dress Well is the stage name of songwriter and producer Tom Krell. Krell’s burgeoning career began in 2009 when, having just moved from Brooklyn to Berlin, his songs began to emerge online via a hugely prolific string of free, digital EPs posted in anonymity on his blog. Combining a gorgeous falsetto with fractured R&B-influenced beats, an instinctive ear for subtly devastating melody and elements of noise, sound collage and avant-garde composition, Krell’s debut album Love Remains offered a beautiful window into a startlingly realised artistic imagination. Praised for both its conceptual strength and immediate emotional resonance, Love Remains duly garnered vast critical acclaim and highlights such as “Ready For The World” saw Krell accredited with having given birth to a new, narcotized strain of R&B that has since spawned a host of imitators. Now, come September 17th, we will see him pull back the curtain on a whole new body of work with his new album Total Loss, released on Weird World/ Domino.
Recorded over a span of 15 months in Brooklyn, Chicago, Nashville and London, Krell says that period of time was a long year that he spent “very unhappy and confused. I found myself feeling stranded, alone and depraved, and generally run the fuck down…while writing these songs I was trying to learn to lose in a meaningful way and to sustain loss as a source of creative energy”. Ergo, where Love Remains was a study of love in its darkest hour, Total Loss is an attempt to find one’s way out of darkness, even when there seems to be no light ahead. Co-produced by Rodaidh McDonald (the XX, King Krule), the album touches on many of the same sounds as Love Remains but incorporates a range of other influences and showcases Krell’s evolution as an artist. The increased fidelity of these recordings also highlights Krell’s arrangements and graceful voice in ways Love Remains had only hinted at.
All the elements of Love Remains that enraptured are still present here – the noisiness, the moodiness, the layers of swarming voices – but stand alongside other complex elements: the elegant weeping arcos and pizzicatos of neo-classical music, the rude drums of trap-rap, and the sweet, special and sentimental moments of Janet Jackson’s Velvet Rope are all swept up and embraced in the deep beauty of Total Loss. So the fractured hip-hop beats of “How Many?” sit alongside the cinematic strings of “World I Need You, Won’t Be Without You (Proem)”, and the deeply affecting “Talking To You” (in which Krell executes a duet, of sorts, with himself) precedes the transcendent sweep of “Set it Right”, before the glacial beauty of “Ocean Floor For Everything” brings everything to a quietly devastating close.
Krell states that Total Loss is “an opening-up”, describing it as an “album about sharing.” So, where Love Remains was an expression of intense and maybe isolating intimacy with pain, Total Loss is about the rare sharing that can go on between people that pierces through the undeniable, sometimes unshakable struggle and pain of life. As Krell himself says, “I’m trying to use this sharing to orient my life— call it true hope, or love.”