Lost Youth/Lost You is the latest single from Tom Krell’s outfit How to Dress Well and a typically assured and fascinating example of how the Chicagoan has evolved and shifted from his early days. The 32-year-old arrived in music with 2010’s Love Remains and was instantly met with passionate reviews and acclaim. The album remains a lo-fi treat that shows how emotional and resonant music can be when not loaded with studio gimmicks and needless polish. Feedback loops, technology hisses and barely-there songs like You Hold the Water made the L.P. one of the standouts from the year. Krell grew up listening to ‘80s and ‘90s R&B; the artists that transformed his formative years can be heard throughout the album. Abstract soundscapes and songs that suddenly stop dead: A remarkably unique and memorable album from a wonderful talent.
Following that bold debut and wave of applause that followed that: Many musicians would feel pressured and struggle to top such a record. How to Dress Well’s follow-up (2012’s Total Loss) was largely influenced by Janet Jackson’s The Velvet Rope. Jackson, on that album, put trust in herself and followed her instincts and heart. That L.P. crossed genres with audacity – Jackson owning every one of them – with vocals ranging from distorted and far-off to right in your ears – you can hear her lip smack on some numbers. Inspired by that recording process and creative sprawl: Total Loss is the attempt to replicate that near-genius and huge confidence. The album, once more critics going nuts, stepped into new territory and found Krell pushing his immense talent and voice to the very limits. “What is This Heart?” came out in 2014, and while emotionally transparent and vulnerable, did not receive the same celebration and praise as his previous two albums – perhaps not a necessary step from their templates.
The signs for Care are all very positive. Mixed by Andrew Dawson (Kanye West; fun.) and co-produced by Krell and Jack Antonoff (Dre Skull and CFCF among other names on production duties), it is a dazzling and sensuous album and one that finds How to Dress Well approaching the next stage and taking in new influence. Keeping the reliable wordplay, celebratory moments and big choruses – throw in some gnarly guitars, optimistic moods and plenty of tender melodies. Few artists in today’s music are as consistent, changeable and surprising. Not only does Care bring together elements and strands of the previous three albums – it seems to bring in fresh sounds from an artist that is as restless and imaginative as they come.
Can’t You Tell opens things up with pure and pin-sharp piano notes. An appropriately gentle and tender start to the fourth album. Krell’s voice is overlapped and fragmented in the chorus – untraditionally arriving before the first chorus – and when the chorus does arrive, its prurient desires and sexual allure oozing from every note. Vocals slinky; velvet and Prince-high: The hero wants to throw the girl down and take her where she is. Perhaps recounting a fond rendezvous or memory: The sweat and desire sparks from the speaker and drips from Krell’s honeyed tongue. Like his debut album and its finest cuts; there is that nod to late-‘80s R&B and soul kings. Wanting love to be thrown back and a girl who is ready for action – a primal and raw opening to the album. What’s Up begins with rousing, heart-aching strings and immense atmosphere. Settling down and riding nimble synths.; the song finds two lovers seeing what “they are made of” and defiant. A song that switches and shifts through genres without losing consistency and integrity. After a classic-cum-operatic opening; along to more traditional R&B before entering a fast-flowing rap phase- the hero asking his girl for commitment and attention; laying his heart and soul on the line and standing proud.
Lost You/Lost Youth is a song that attests how hard change is. Love can change your heart and the time Krell lost a girl and changed his life forever. “I think I know what love is now” is a tenuous statement and one that is undone (“I’m gonna change my heart again”). It is one of the star cuts from the album and comes with a hard and punchy composition; a deliciously swooning and caramel vocal – lyrics that address youthful naivety and uncertainties. I Was Terrible is a brave title and a song that deals in confessions and openness. The hero wants to call the President of the U.S. and not hesitate: Make a change tonight and show boldness. Whether purely looking at love and how a great relationship can affect everything – or more political and wide-ranging in its ideals – you get caught by the rushing synth. and urgency of the delivery. It is a song that is confessional but is one of the most charged and igniting songs across Care.
How to Dress Well have ironed out creases of the previous album and rekindled the spirit and creative wonder of Love Remains and Total Loss. A lot of songs address love but do so with originality, allure and immense passion. Compositions dip into R&B/soul territory and cross the ‘80s and ‘90s with ease and authority. Krell’s voice is consistently sharp and impressive and only a couple of songs are surplus to requirement – Anxious and Made a Lifetime are not as startling as the rest of the pack. How to Dress Well tours the U.S.A. throughout September and October and will arrive in Britain in November – playing London’s Village Underground on 21st. Care is another fine album from the American artist and shows How to Dress Well is one of the suavest, most stylish and refined acts around. A definite return to form.
Care is available 23rd September on Weird World/Domino