Different people deal with sorrow in very different ways. This truth very evidently seen in the different songs written by artists going through tough times. Earlier this year, Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit gave us a wonderful offering of upbeat pop music that, without some context and some time peering through lyrics, could be totally misunderstood as a happy go lucky synth pop record. But in reality, Angelakos just deals with his demons in his own way, which involves addicting synth hooks, singalong choruses, and expansive, overwhelming production. On the complete opposite end of that spectrum comes Tom Krell a.k.a. How To Dress Well. Krell has dealt with his own share of trouble in the past couple years, including the death of a best friend and the tribulations of a serious long-distance relationship. Krell has claimed in interviews that when he writes music, he writes about what makes life complicated and stressful - not what makes it more enjoyable. How To Dress Well is Krell’s minimalist R&B response to life’s twists and turns, and with second full length record Total Loss, Krell takes a more cinematic approach to melancholy to create a relatable and remarkable offering.
Krell’s tunes are bare-bones. While some might be tempted to toss him into the same sub-genre of R&B as The Weeknd or Frank Ocean (lovingly referred to by some as PBR&B), Krell’s production is an entirely different beast. While songs like “Running Back” and “& It Was U” are delightfully catchy, most of the noise on the track is Krell’s voice, looped, reverberated, and otherwise. It’s almost symbolic, in a way. Total Loss is an album that deals heavily with inner battle of finding identity and hope, and the record sounds like a surreal trip through Krell’s head, complete with echoes of past thoughts and future whims. The album’s first two singles, “Cold Nites” and “Ocean Floor For Everything”, fill in the cracks a bit more, but How To Dress Well is always about Tom first. This is a brave and unusual way to go about making a record, as oftentimes, artists will try and focus on how to convey what’s going on in their head to a larger audience. But Krell chooses the latter path, letting his listeners make what they will of the Total Loss experience. This simultaneously makes Total Loss more personal and more human.
Musically, Total Loss flows like a film. The album is definitely melancholy, but Krell knows where to put contrasting pieces in order to keep the energy and emotional connection to his audience maintained. Individual songs work well, but as a full piece, Total Loss is a heartbreaking and moving piece of work. Near the end of the record, “Set It Right” name drops the people in Krell’s life who have helped him through these difficult times in a delightfully subtle way. It reminds the listener that art is not just something to be consumed. It is a story with real characters and real motivations and dynamic developments that don’t always end up with a silver lining. But through love and a creative outlet, Total Loss finds hope amongst dark times and isn’t afraid to share it with those who need it.
Total Loss is out September 18 on Acephale for the USA on CD and digitally. Due to an unforeseen audio issue, the vinyl won’t be available in stores immediately, but for some, the wait might be worth it! Stream the rest of Total Loss over at Wired.