Release Date: Sep 23, 2016
Record label: Weird World
On Care, How to Dress Well's Tom Krell continues to bring his songs out of the mist, a process he began on Total Loss. With each album, his music has more closely resembled the pop and R&B of the late '80s and early '90s that initially inspired him, and now it feels like the mirror twin of 2010s pop. Krell doubles down on a radio-friendly sound on Care, and his collaborations with producers such as Jack Antonoff, Dre Skull, CFCF, and Kara-Lis Coverdale underscore just how porous the boundaries between the mainstream and the underground were when he made the album.
Tom Krell is many things. He’s an artist who approaches his work as How to Dress Well with some severity. You could call him a pop singer, too. He’s a doctor of philosophy, having obtained a PhD from DePaul University in Chicago. He’s an amusing presence on Twitter, where his screen name ….
Over the course of four albums, Chicago’s Tom Krell, aka How to Dress Well, has moved from hollowing out his tactile take on R&B to filling it to the brim. Care – which features production from Taylor Swift collaborator Jack Antonoff – is a much bolder pop experiment than his previous work, overflowing with bright melodies and, on seductive opener Can’t You Tell and single Lost Youth/Lost You, proper singalong choruses. While previously his songs could veer towards a parody of little-boy-lost R&B, here his delicate vocals are housed in much more robust settings, the excellent Salt Song, for example, morphing from a fluttering electronic canter into a big wall of detuned noise.
Tom Krell writes music with the mindset of someone who leaves their diary open to a page they want you to read. How to Dress Well, Krell’s psychic safety valve for his musical dreamscapes, played like a Ready for the World and ‘90s neo-soul homage in its infancy. In 2009, the then 25-year-old Krell shared his mission statement anonymously in three otherworldly EPs on his blog.
Tom Krell has long been preoccupied with matters of the heart. As How To Dress Well, his first three albums traversed seriously rocky emotional terrain; from the lo-fi R'n'B melancholia of his debut to the maximalist pop theatrics of 2014's What Is This Heart?, Krell's soul-searching is not for the faint-hearted. Combine his fearlessness in the face of feelings with a die-hard, academic belief in the cathartic power of music, and you have Care.
Tom Krell has spent his entire career singing about togetherness while consciously putting distance between himself and listeners. Though that gap has slowly been closing over the course of three LPs, Krell's latest as How to Dress Well offers a rapid acceleration of this trend. Gone is the vocal reverb and echo, along with any sense of hesitation.
How to Dress Well, the pseudonym of singer-songwriter Tom Krell, has evolved about as much as possible. What began as a project somewhere between R&B and ambient music — one defined by an overall fogginess and even, at times, intentionally rough sound quality — has turned into a pop R&B vehicle of pure sonic clarity. Following his acclaimed but divisive 2010 debut, Love Relmains, 2012’s Total Loss marked the start of that transition and 2014’s “What Is This Heart?” continued it.
Over the course of his last few albums, Tom Krell, the singer behind How to Dress Well, charted a heady course, elevating pop accessibility, R&B crooning, and a dash of electronic experimentation into high art. With his intellectual bona fides established by his never-quite-finished philosophy dissertation and his canny tendency of praising contemporary rappers and 18th century theorists in conversation, Krell was able to brand his viscerally pleasurable music as both “smart” and “cool. ” By the time the smoldering, show-stopping “What Is This Heart?” came out in 2014, he had become a poster boy for alternative R&B at a time when critics were not quite as united against the term as they are (I hope) now.
For Tom Krell, this has been a long time coming. It's best to just get it out of the way: Care is the most straightforward pop record the man known as How To Dress Well has crafted in his career yet. For longtime fans who already slightly balked at the tidy accessibility of "What is this Heart?" - but ultimately couldn't help being swayed by its meticulous beauty - that may well be news to mourn.
"There's been a deficit of joy in music," said Tom Krell in a recent interview with The New York Times. "Art is able to produce affects of joy, which energize people against the forces of domination […], cynicism and depression." Whether it's Holly Herndon's "paradise politics" or Jam City inviting us to Dream A Garden, political optimism has recently become a meme in underground pop music. Krell's take on this is Care—a word which cropped up repeatedly when writing lyrics for his fourth album.
Tom Krell’s fourth album as How to Dress Well is his most celebratory, but not in a standard blow-out-the-candles way. The soul-searching of previous LP ‘What Is This Heart?’ remains, but instead of getting caught up in uncertainty and a pursuit of the truth, ‘Care’ is happy with not knowing. Krell’s trademarks - hushed, let-me-tell-you-a-secret croons and lush keys - are still central to ‘Care’, but he’s also more free-spirited.
How to Dress Well is the alias of Tom Krell, a Chicagoan who rose to acclaim in the late 00s as a maker of glitchy, ethereal electronica. On Care, his fourth LP, the slightly opaque experimentalism of his old, intriguing material such as Ready for the World is substituted for a more conventional pop sensibility. It’s a direction he began moving in with 2014’s What Is This Heart? , but here Krell takes it further – sometimes into the realms of pop at its most irredeemably schmaltzy.
If alt-R&B disappears ever, it’ll be via suffocation under a heap of its own baggage. The stereotypes are well-known and vicious. The worst of the genre has two modes: shallow or performatively sexualized, the latter salvaged only when nodding to R. Kelly’s ethos of pairing sleaze with earnestness.
How To Dress Well – aka 31-year-old Tom Krell – is the perfect example of the modern-day musician. He was discovered online in 2009 after he started uploading demos on to his own blog. It’s a similar start-up story to Frankie Cosmos and Car Seat Headrest - two other musicians who have released standout albums this year - but what separates Krell is the music itself; Cosmos and Headrest are two very guitar-orientated bands, but How to Dress Well churns out infectious millennial R&B.