Review Summary: Immersive, Cold, Beautiful.There’s a moment, wedged in the middle of “Ready for the World”, where Tom Krell lets the shrill sound of a screaming whistle pierce the otherwise innocuous drape of swirling melody that hangs over Love Remains. In fact, he does it twice, and twice only. But realize this: that those two singular whistles, these bursts of caustic white noise, are perhaps the most remarkable instants to be found etched across the skin of this spellbinding record.
In fall 2009, a mysterious artist called How to Dress Well posted a free EP called The Eternal Love, and a half-dozen more EPs followed on the project's blog in the next six months. The music on these mp3 releases consisted of cheap-sounding home recordings that were murky and blown out, but the style drew on the ethereal end of contemporary R&B, with layered vocals, falsetto, and tons of reverb. They turned out to be the work of Tom Krell, a philosophy student who splits time between Brooklyn and Cologne, Germany.
Would it be rash or premature to declare the music producer obsolete? Relatively speaking, we’ve only begun to appreciate the impact of the Digital Age, but as the widespread availability of information narrows the gap between the commoner and the credentialed, the thought of the producer going the way of the milkman and the travel agent doesn’t seem too inconceivable. Nowadays, commissioning an outside party to lend an ear and some suggestions already seems more like a luxury than the rule of thumb that it once was, and, for better or worse, the omnipotent supremacy of technology and the endlessly accommodative opportunities now afforded to anybody with a song has ushered in a larger trend in which the middleman is often being bypassed altogether. Granted, save for a handful of fat cats who managed to establish their predominance with either a distinctive/pioneering recording technique or the megastardom of those artists for whom they provide services, hitting the daily grind as a producer was never the most lucrative sector of the industry.
Though his pioneering cut-n’-paste compositions found many of their early enthusiasts among ravers and trip-hoppers, DJ Shadow never thought of himself as making electronic music: Wherever records stores saw fit to shelve his work, his heart remained with hip-hop. And when he had it his way, his CDs did too: It’s rumored that Shadow would take time out of routine crate-digging missions to re-shelve copies of Endtroducing… among the likes of De La Soul and Dr. Dre, where he felt they properly belonged.
Despite the abundance of lo-fi acts and artists revisiting the sounds of their childhood in 2010, How to Dress Well remained unique. Tom Krell’s fractured background, which included loving late-‘80s R&B as a little boy, playing in bands throughout high school, and recording drone music in college and beyond, came together as something organic in Love Remains. Krell released many of these songs in a prolific burst of free EPs in late 2009 and early 2010, garnering buzz from critics who treated them like aural Rorschach blots, hearing Panda Bear, Michael Jackson, dubstep, Shai, and Bon Iver in Krell’s dense, soulful songs.
Like Chicago crack ghouls Salem, Brooklyn philosophy student Tom Krell makes spooky dance-inspired music that's seriously hip. At the centre of his hotly tipped debut are soulful and at times unexpectedly catchy vocals. They sound extracted, processed and soaked in reverb and get set against austere, dreamlike backdrops of ghostly synths, seemingly improvised percussion and intentionally blown-out, hypnotic production.
One of the things that new alternative acts are somtimes charged with is recasting a mainstream genre in some new light that makes it more palatable and interesting as an objet d'art. The implication is that before, the medium was insbustantial mainstream fluff, but now, through the lens of a true artist, the culturally savvy can begin to engage the tastes of the common music consumer. Even if the allegation is made with critically honest intentions and genuine egalitarian feeling for Top 40 music, which it more often than not is, there's still a prejudice there that belies the pretension with which it will sometimes be received.
Tom Krell, the man behind How to Dress Well, has been strategically releasing snippets from his ethereal debut, Love Remains, for over a year and given the overwhelmingly positive response to those previews it comes as no surprise that the album has become one of 2010's most hyped. Krell has been likened to Antony Hegarty, Maxwell on drugs, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and Justin Timberlake. These analyses aren't totally off the mark but despite being placed among some of the best vocalists of the last 15 years, one would be well served in exercising caution and skepticism when approaching Krell's debut.
If there was a genre that had yet to be occupied, consider Tom Krell's (better known as How to Dress Well) mixture of lo-fi recordings and contemporary rhythm and blues. Though many artists have caught up with this craze, HTDW is the real deal. Krell contrasts that horrible name by actually possessing an impressive vocal range that could compete with any of the artists in still-in-a-coma Uptown Records.
An exquisitely lo-fi RnB disquisition on memory and desire, love and loss. Paul Lester 2011 How to Dress Well is the recording alias of Tom Krell, a philosophy student who splits his time between Brooklyn and Cologne, Germany. When he’s not writing about Kantian epistemology, he’s listening to RnB, the hi-tech variety ranging chronologically from the late-80s swingbeat era to today’s The-Dream and Drake/Kanye, loving that strand of solemn synthesizer soul that no one has quite got around to terming "keymo" yet, with an unironic vengeance.