Stylish and Suave
How To Dress Well (AKA the sensitive songwriter and philosopher-in-training Tom Krell) poses a question on his third album—he explores a new, tentative reach toward something that sounds suspiciously like happiness, like pop. Leaving behind the ambient, atmospheric electronica of his critically acclaimed sophomore album Total Loss (2012), Krell ventures softly in a different direction.
“2 Years On (Shame Dream)” begins the album with single, delicate piano notes and Krell’s quavering, light voice trembling above an acoustic guitar. While some artists choose to open their albums with something bombastic or loud, making a statement, Krell does this subtly: “2 Years On” is the gentlest lullaby of an opening track, showing off his vocal talent, leading into “What You Wanted,” which continues with light chimes and a xylophone-like melody accompanying him. It picks up with a buzzing bass, bright synths, and simple percussion, blending elements of pop and that R&B-influenced style How To Dress Well first became known for.
“See You Fall” begins with dirge-like strings that recall, for a brief moment, the misty moors of ancient Scotland or Ireland, but they quickly cede to warm keys and Krell’s waltzing, fragile voice. Despite its perhaps less than pleasant message, “See You Fall” sounds almost happy, almost uplifting. The album’s single, “Repeat Pleasure,” does too—it has an upbeat little bass line, limber, supple vocals, and clapping percussion that veer steadily in the direction of pop music. And it’s great pop music, at that: ambient but catchy, effortlessly intricate.
“Words I Don’t Remember” plays with the conventions of electronica and pop as well, with slick, laid-back synths and a silky-smooth melody, and “Precious Love” wouldn’t sound all that out of place as a slow number at a high school dance, strangely enough. “Childhood Faith (Everything Must Change, Everything Must Stay the Same)” sounds downright joyful at times, pulsing in quick spurts of percussion.
But “What Is This Heart?” still retains an edge, a resistance to the easy recipes of pop. Krell’s unique songwriting tics appear on tracks like “Face Again,” which mixes industrial percussion and almost creepy, low, masked vocals (like the ones the murderer in a horror movie would use, speaking through a voice-changer) singing in brash counterpoint to Krell’s crooning, breaking up the rhythm with stark, staccato beats and a deep techno bass.
How To Dress Well has consistently released impressive albums, blending elements of pop, electronica, and more soulful music into an oddly intriguing new sound. “What Is This Heart?” continues this tradition, and by all signs, we can continue to expect more from him on the next album.