How to Dress Well band
Tom Krell tweaks and tailors R&B to deliver diaphanous indie-soul kitted out in gorgeous melodies
The lineup: Tom Krell (voices, music).
How to Dress Well is the stage name of experimental pop producer and singer, ethereal/R&B artist Tom Krell, from Brooklyn, New York. His debut album, Love Remains, was released in 2010 on Lefse in the USA and Tri Angle in UK/Europe/Asia. It received a score of 8.7 and the “Best New Music” designation from music review site Pitchfork Media. Stereogum recognized him as one of its “40 Best Bands of 2010”. Spin gave it 8 out of 10 stars, calling it “as meditative as it is evocative… conjuring fractured memories of Shai or TLC”.
In addition to making music, Krell is a graduate student in philosophy and has studied in the United States and in Europe (most specifically, Cologne and Berlin, Germany, and Lawrence, KS).
In October 2009, Krell started posting batches of his clouded tunes to his blog. They’re marked by his high voice; piercing and fragile like the rest of his music.
It barely needs repeating, although we always feel the need to do so on a Monday morning after a weekend of ghastly X Factor passion-play: the best singing isn’t a matter of bellowing but billowing, as in the effortless exhalation of smoke. With the entrants on that repulsively watchable programme, the emphasis is on straining to reach the notes, on grandstanding and showboating, and the prioritizing of the voice above the music, the production, even the song, whereas the best stuff being made right now is about merging vocals and music to create a hazy, blurry, atmospheric fug of sound, to the point where it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.
There was a lot of blog chatter a while back in response to an article by the Village Voice’s Sacha Frere-Jones about the lack of dialogue between black music and white, but in fact there is a great deal of confluence these days between the two worlds. It is hardly pushing it to find things in common between the finest recent hip-hop records – the sweet’n’sorrowful synth-rap of Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak, the-Dream’s Love and Money and Drake’s Thank Me Later, music so keyboards-heavy and so into expressing its emotions you could call it “keymo” – and all the slow and spacey music being made in the name of glo-fi, chillwave and witch house.
As though to prove the theory, here comes Tom Krell alias How to Dress Well, whose very project is to tweak and tune, phase and pitch-shift, reverb and ever so beautifully ravage post-Thriller R&B, from Michael Jackson himself (whose track Baby Be Mine he looped and lusciously lacerated on his recent single Ecstasy With Jo Jo) to the late-80s swingbeat artists he grew up listening to, such as Keith Sweat and Al B Sure!, loathed by many as the ultimate in oleaginous macho posturing but in whose glistening surfaces and gorgeous melodies he caught a glint of the divine as a child. “I really love 90s R&B,” he says. “It’s not a joke to me. Twisted by Keith Sweat is a fucking masterpiece.” These days, Krell worships Kanye and the-Dream (“My dream is to have the-Dream appreciate my melodic sensibility”) and, although he operates using budget equipment, lo-fi is a matter of practical consideration not aesthetic judgment: he’d love to work in a proper studio with Kanye.
Meanwhile, here he is, delivering his diaphanous indie-soul and ghostly, glitchy R&B in an androgynous falsetto so unreal it appears to emerge wraith-like from the mix/mist. He’s fantastically prolific, with six or seven EPs of material, and an album ready to go (and all while he’s busy translating a book of “post-Kantian philosophy”, apparently). We can only find one of those EPs, on iTunes (Ready for the World, the title song about being a kid hearing a man crying through the floor of his apartment after splitting up with his boyfriend), but there are loads of tracks on YouTube, each one more exquisitely ethereal than the last. A whole album of this stuff is going to be mind-blowing.
The buzz: “His lower-than-lo-fi, blown-out recontextualisations of R&B signifiers, carries an air of spiritual mystery.”
The truth: Try some of HTDW’s keymo therapy, you won’t regret it.
Most likely to: Induce ecstasy.
Least likely to: Make the New Band of the Day writer dress well.
From the Just Once EP (2011).
How to Dress Well is the alias of Tom Krell, creator of narcotized, lo-fi R&B. In October 2009, Krell started posting batches of his clouded tunes to his blog. They’re marked by his high voice; piercing and fragile like the rest of his music.
How to Dress Well – Suicide Dream 2 (Orchestral version)
How to Dress Well‘s “Suicide Dream 2″ sounds like abject, windswept emptiness. It’s the sound of a voice, a piano figure drifting to the coldest corners of the universe. This is what it sounds like before you cut all ties that tether you to the earth. And now How to Dress Well have released a video that accompanies the suffocating loneliness of the song. The video, like HtDW itself, is a ghostly amalgam of borrowed images reconfigured in an entirely new context. The unconnected images flash like the hurried last memories of someone on the verge.
If you haven’t already done so, pick up How to Dress Well’s amazing new EP, Can’t See My Own Face: The Eternal Love 2, which features the unbelievable song “Decisions.”