Release Date: Jun 24, 2014
Record label: Weird World
Genre(s): R&B, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Alternative R&B
Tom Krell spent the first four years of his career as How to Dress Well as an outlier, hiding in the shadows, only occasionally poking his head above the aural murk. But on HTDW's third full-length, he offers a crisp and clear-eyed view into his world. "2 Years On" opens the album with just finger picked acoustic guitar and his unadorned voice before shifting into the full bodied "What you Wanted," which sets the tone for the rest of the record.
How to Dress Well is a project that Tom Krell conducts with a particularly modern transparency: the music he shares is meant to illuminate the music that he makes. His most recent Soundcloud mixtapes, No Words to Say and I Think Life Might Be Elsewhere (Hungover Mix), were heavy on what we’ve come to expect from him—along with his own work in progress, we’d hear a very specific set of influences, mostly R&B and hip-hop, high/lowbrow dichotomies accepted by indie culture such as Lou Reed and Miley Cyrus, Young Thug, and GG Allin. But late last year, early 2000s emo acts like the Starting Line, Taking Back Sunday and Saves the Day started to infiltrate, and surely he was trying to tell us why these bands speak to him.
On Christmas Eve last year, Tom Krell teased fans by using Twitter to boast about upcoming material. “i didn’t put a rec out this year but I feel slighted by these year end lists bc of the songs i’m sitting on lol :+),” the tweet read. It was something you might expect from a certain egotistical rap god (minus the smiley face and all), but coming from an eloquent and unassuming songwriter who doubles as a philosophy Ph.D.
Tom Krell's previous recordings as How To Dress Well flirted with R&B and pop conventions, but from a decidedly experimental angle. On What Is This Heart?, Krell peels back the dense cloud of reverb that used to cloak his quivering falsetto and mixes conventional instrumentation like acoustic guitars and pianos with the ambient electronic textures. He proudly embraces all the aspects of R&B that rock critics used to dismiss as cheesy.
With his 2010 debut Love Remains, How To Dress Well helped spearhead a mini-renaissance of R&B singing in indie, though his own music has never sat comfortably in either of those categories. Tom Krell, the singer-songwriter behind the project, is at this point more likely to make use of tinkling pianos and swelling strings than murky R&B samples, and prefers confessional lyrics to the repetitive, unintelligible fragments he once favored. In the three and a half years since Love Remains, his work has gone from conceptual to concrete, the wispy suggestiveness of his early singles giving way to sounds that are almost uncanny in their immediacy.
Tom Krell may not be the happiest chap. A glance at the artwork for his third How to Dress Well album, which sees his face set in a glum, faraway expression, reveals as much. It seems fitting, then, that almost every track on this hipster R&B album sounds slick with tears, as Krell sighs, coos and reminisces with keen abandon. It feels ready to join Lykke Li and Lana Del Rey's recent releases as a soundtrack to heartbreak and general misery.
"The only bad part about flying is having to come back down to the fuckin' world." The Streetwise-sampled words found on Tom Krell's second full-length album as How to Dress Well have lost no potency in the two years since we first heard them. In fact, even though intended as a much deeper insight, those words resonate with our feelings towards Krell's new album: the only bad part about "What Is This Heart?" is having to come back down afterwards. .
Tom Krell’s third record and his second for Domino imprint Weird World, doesn’t find the singer-songwriter shaking off the ‘hipster R&B’ mantle, rather it finds him attempting to transcend it. Lead single and successor to Total Loss’ ‘& It Was U’, ‘Repeat Pressure’ becomes just what it aspires to be, a song with bona fide pop credentials. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Krell’s latest collection is trading in intellectualism for a stab at full-blown chart glory.
How to Dress Well's What Is This Heart? opens with a few aimlessly struck piano notes building into a plinked melody followed by somber crooning over gentle acoustic strums. This about sums up the skeletal “2 Years On (Shame Dream),” a mournful tale of familial and individual rupture. It's the album's most vulnerable song and also its weakest, the layering of earnest emoting and vocal trills over such sparse instrumentation leaving little to focus on aside from singer Tom Krell's strained, wounded voice.
How to Dress Well has proven more versatile than its gauzy early days suggested, when Tom Krell pursued a very specific, very stylized sound that nevertheless pointed the way for many other artists mixing R&B and indie. He stretched his boundaries further with his second album, Total Loss, which traded Love Remains' artful distortion for a streamlined approach that sometimes felt caught between where he'd been and where he was going. His destination becomes clear on What Is This Heart?, a wondering, musing title for an unapologetically sprawling album that explores the facets of love, loss, trust, and doubt.
“What Is This Heart?,” the title of Tom Krell’s third album under the How to Dress Well moniker, isn’t so much a statement as a search, one that he chases across 12 tracks of emotive R & B/pop. Answers are always just out of reach; tracks play like internalized therapy sessions. (Read: homeboy has feelings and you’re going to hear about all of them.) It’s a lot to unpack, statements of self-doubt and passion made all the more penetrating by Krell’s indelible falsetto and liberal use of crescendos.
For its first four minutes, Tom Krell’s voice is the only thing connecting “What Is This Heart?” to his last two albums under the name How to Dress Well. It appears bare over acoustic guitar and distant trickles of piano — no real atmospherics, no beats. His lyrics emerge newly clear, detailing painful memories of familial mistreatment. No more shrouds — the echoes and misdirections that used to signify How to Dress Well have been cut down.
Resident PBR&B asteroid Tom Krell, donning his How To Dress Well costume, always tugs at the heartstrings. He’s adept at manipulating emotions, like some sociopathic puppeteer, but the result is almost always jaw-on-the-floor stunning. It’s like he’s frickin’ magic or something. 2012’s Total Loss LP, Krell’s second as How To Dress Well, was a rollicking ride through emotions, synthscapes and post-soul/noir&B elegance and received a standing ovation from oodles of outlets.
I don’t know much about the man Tom Krell but I’m sure he’d confuse my reclusive British sensibilities. He seems far too happy to share his failures and shortcomings, far too happy to open up a dialogue about his demons. Under the How To Dress Well banner, he is one of the most forthcoming songwriters going, completely unafraid to pour suffering and despair into his music.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. "What Is This Heart?" is the third album by How To Dress Well and the pinnacle of a scene that has been bubbling and building for a while. Writers have been struggling to call it what it is for as long as they've been defining it as a thing. For the purpose of this review we can call it blog-pop, or neo-nerd soul, or just class it as hip faux asexual sexual music championed by the socially awkward.
Tom Krell, the velvet voice of How to Dress Well, is at his best when he's most vulnerable. His early recordings were grief-stricken and raw; subsequent releases have expanded and refined his sound without ever quite reaching the same heights. Krell's third LP continues to elevate his R&B-inflected music into sonic clarity, though his emotions remain muddled as ever.
With 2012's Total Loss, New Yorker Tom Krell made a beguilingly glacial slice of hipster-friendly soul. The follow-up features slightly less bleak lyrics, with love added to his monochromatic palette of loss, isolation and death, but his sound remains hard to categorise, with much of his third album sounding like an unlikely fusion of Stevie Wonder and Burial. Perhaps strangest of all is See You Fall, which samples the Velvet Underground's Heroin and yet still sounds like Prince at his most heavenly.
“A truth like that that opens up, kind of begets other truths, and when you discover truths like that, how you think about truths within that are concealed, it does sort of make you alter the way that you look within, and that opens up. ” The extent to which the above quote seems more like a perceptive wisdom than a vacuous bromide is, I predict, the extent to which you like the new How To Dress Well release. It’s from the 2012 documentary Stories We Tell, which, like much of How To Dress Well’s output, drew heavily on nostalgia as wisps of communication and memory that only seem to swirl around truth (specifically, in the film, the truth that your sister is the lovechild of your mother’s extramarital affair).
Though Tom Krell, aka HTDW, is fiercely “credible”, he’s also pop. The American namechecks Spiritualized, Mark Kozelek and Lou Reed, and even recorded this chilltronic third album – where else? – in Berlin. But since the sonic mist from his neo-soul 2010 debut ‘Love Remains’ cleared, his elastic-tonsil R&B voice has aligned him closer to Daniel Bedingfield and R Kelly than James Blake and Bon Iver, no matter how much minimalist chiming, fuzzy synths and potting-the-black beats he slavers onto ‘What You Wanted’.
When Tom Krell, the artist behind the How to Dress Well moniker, began releasing free EPs anonymously in the latter part of the 2000s, the mystique surrounding the artist putting out this lo-fi ambient dream pop made the moody atmosphere that much more compelling. An artist that seems perfect in an age of indie obsessed Internet users, it’s no wonder that How to Dress Well’s popularity spread quickly. With two cult hits under his belt, How to Dress Well now releases his third studio album, “What Is This Heart?” The days of How to Dress Well being this anonymous character releasing music behind the scenes are long gone, as Krell’s face is front and center on the album cover.
opinion bySAMUEL TOLZMANN < @scatlint > “And I know I can be extra-sentimental. / Yeah, it’s dumb, but sometimes, it’s just right. / And I could say it smarter, but I want it gentle.” That’s Tom Krell getting defensive (and meta) on us during “Very Best Friend,” the penultimate track from How To Dress Well’s third full-length, “What Is This Heart?” It’s a canny counterargument to criticisms Krell anticipates being thrown his way now that the album is out.
There’s always been two Tom Krells that come to mind at various points when listening to his music. One is the guy with a smile playing almost invisibly around his face as he sings impassioned ad libs through a smoke machine and a pane of glass, as in this incredible video with Active Child from 2011, turning in an R&B jam with lyrics that sink to the bone and throwing himself into the aesthetic and the spirit of it with the faintest hint of a wink. Then there’s the Tom Krell who made the Just Once EP, an orchestral ode to a recently lost friend, and who performed at London’s XOYO last year unamplified and acapella to a pindrop-quiet basement: a man placing no smoke or mirrors at all between himself and his audience.
How to Dress Well What Is This Heart? (Domino) On 2010's Love Remains, Tom Krell debuted unshakably raw. The smooth, Chicago-born tenor behind How to Dress Well countered that with production gloss on Total Loss two years later, sadness being the only common thread between the two. His angst returns on What Is This Heart?, but he marries the two aural extremes, resulting in the most memorable and lovely work of his four-year career.
In hip-hop and dancehall, where singles and mixtapes build audiences, the official debut album is less an introduction than a graduation. So it is with “Where We Come From” (Mixpak), the debut album by Popcaan, born Andre Jay Sutherland, who’s already one of Jamaica’s top dancehall ….
“It’s a joke, right? Like, a parody?” That’s my friend looking over the cover to What Is This Heart? for the first time, at the haunted-looking face staring sorrowfully offside, darkness crowding at the edges and twining with his features. “Of all these Earnest Musicians,” he continues, “who need you to know just how much they feel it. ” He has a point: for anyone looking to satirise the rise of the hyper-earnest artist, the type who sing with their eyes closed and their fists balled, lips trembling with emotion as they let it all out, this is pretty much how you’d do it.
Though Tom Krell is working to ensure How To Dress Well remains an ongoing concern, his project’s legacy has already been cemented. Barring an unexpected reinvention, How To Dress Well will be best remembered as one of the acts responsible for kick-starting indie rock’s unlikely fascination with R&B. That’s a reputation Krell seems uncomfortable with, and understandably so, given how callously the traditionally white genre co-opted a black music tradition, treating it as just another curio to bide time between chillwave and the emo revival, or whatever novel fad breaks next.
Tom Krell’s m.o. is to disarm. Performing as How to Dress Well, he sings in an emotionally tremulous falsetto that makes him sound reluctant to vocalize openly for fear that his private thoughts are too delicate to endure public exposure. As a result, “‘What Is This Heart?” often feels uncomfortably intimate, which cuts both ways.