How To Dress Well – Total Loss

Following 2010’s heady, reverb-driven debut ‘Love Remains’, the music of Tom Krell, also known as How to Dress Well seems to have reached a state of crystallization with his sophomore album, ‘Total Loss’. Prompted by a struggle with depression and the death of some of his nearest and dearest, each of the tracks read like an act of catharsis, conveyed through his trademark falsetto and filtered through low-fi melodies and minimalist R&B beats.

Unlike its predecessor, which relied heavily on murky, nebulous synths, ‘Total Loss’ possesses an almost diametrical piercing, delicate quality that manages to sound near yet far, at times wafting through a meticulous soundscape, and at times descending into a sticky whisper. This ultimately works in Krell’s favour, as the tracks in this album seem more concise somehow, each deftly turning over notes in a succinct arrangement that better showcases his unique vocals without compromising on evocativeness. This is best felt in tracks such as “& It Was U” and “Running Back” that utilize a bouncy, R&B tempo within a sparse percussive framework, reminiscent of something Janet Jackson might have done had she been jacked up on Ambien. Opening track “When I Was In Trouble” conveys some of Krell’s most heartfelt lyrics to date, and also sets the tone for the rest of the album beautifully. Another stunner, “Cold Nites”, is a soaring, atmospheric exposition into the very depths of Krell’s experience, and absolutely heart-wrenching to listen to. Interestingly placed in the middle of the record, the instrumental “World I Need You, Won’t Be Without You (Proem)” might appear anomalous at first, but the use of strings prove singularly devastating and widens the scope of Krell’s musicality significantly.

Listening to How To Dress Well feels very much like standing on the other end of a very long tunnel with an ear inclined towards the darkness—his melodies are haunting and visceral sometimes to the point of discomfort, but in the best way possible. It’s evident that ‘Total Loss’ was the product of coping with an immense amount of perhaps overwhelming emotions—and while Krell is not the first to have turned his melancholy into an art form, his interpretation counts as one of the most potent ones in contemporary music yet.