Sunday, 7 October 2012

How To Dress Well - Total Loss

 
The tag of RnB has gone through leaps and bounds over the past two decades. Such a concept of rhythm and blues - as the term has often meant - has moved away from the representation of emotion and momentum in music and has found itself represented by this self-contained status of satisfaction and content. But to avoid going off on a tangent, recent signs point to the genre incorporating less of a connectivity between the two and more expressing a sense of optimism and satisfaction with whatever lays around us. Producer and song-writer Tom Krell's How To Dress Well project could be seen as both an opposite take on the positivity or an extreme take altogether on the concept of status and taking the very definition to its literal extreme. 2010's 'Love Remains' was a wash of emotion - trivial outpourings all darting in a glue of choppy melodies, foggy production and persona that moaned, rather than cried, its motifs to us. While this trippy concoction worked its marvel previous, it's no surprise that 'Total Loss' sees Krell pulling his sound from out of the confines of his studio and out into the spacious vulnerability of the outside.

The first thing you'll notice - and certainly feel seeping into you as if through some musical spread of pores - is Krell's ethereal treading of sound. His minimal palette of piano and vocal echo on 'When I Was In Trouble' amplifies the sense of loneliness Krell expresses in his lyrics, 'Now I've got these visions of you waiting outside' which itself makes out to be leading into something else - something much grander and emotionally promising - but instead finds Krell vanishing from around the  track's presence. It leads straight into the colorless paleness the album cover so often expresses about this record's sound. Rustles of what sounds like traffic in some parts, and ocean tides in another, emit a sort of lonesome analogy about Krell's line of thinking. All the while this lightly treading path of piano keys glows in a state of humble grievance, this isolating environment striking quite the similarity with the likes of Bon Iver and other folk artists.

'Cold Nites' features a much tempered beat and Krell focuses more on the rhythm and pacing of his song-writing rather than the lasting effect as was the case previous. His output delivers the same amount - if not more - of his falsetto-driven escalation from realization into trivial acceptance of the emotional present. What strikes me the most however is Krell's less-than-secretive admittance of being against something - fighting against what may be the inevitable or could well be some struggle of sorts closer to home. He repeats 'they aren't going to stop...' throughout as if 'they' are some form of malevolence in Krell's bluntly-put reality of subject matter. This continued fight - this struggle - is an important concept on the album because it expresses Krell in a sort of beyond-human vulnerability it's actually soothing in how bold it goes to admitting how close he is to self-destruction. 'Say My Name Or Say Whatever' starts off with a brief monologue about flying and the immediate disappointment of 'having to come back down to the fucking World'. And then, Krell delivers this sample-like rung of piano keys that sound like something DJ Shadow might cut out and readjust in context. But the fluffy and pristine texture to the keys lose none of their originality in Krell's production and it actually adds a sort of Four Tet vibe to its catchy repetition and its ongoing emitting of emotion.

The RnB side in How To Dress Well's monologue of song-writing and overall production comes out most clearly - and most successfully - in a track like 'Running Back', a finger-clicking softly-padded synth line trailing through the mirky dark of the track's backdrop of Krell's murmurs of 'Who could ever remember/Who could ever hope...' Again, this ambiguity of a third-party continues to encircle, its purpose and very existence continuing to be nothing short of an unanswered mystery. It's this mystery Krell keeps running rather smoothly throughout the track, the latter half descending into more urban loops of vocals and electronic beats. '& It Was U' uses the same formulaic take of beats and vocals and proves Krell's credentials as both a song-writer as well as a performer of these extremely-ranged emotions. The ground-pounding momentum and carriage of rhythm syncs superbly with the dynamic opposition of sincerity and pleading in Krell's lyrical story-telling.

It's become a commonplace to assume that something of this timidness in its sense of escape, will definitely hide a more darker and sinister reality behind all the minimalism. But where others have tried adding content in order to maybe brighten the scene or suggest something more promising or uplifting on the horizon, How To Dress Well feels more like a complete biographic of everything that has gone wrong. It doesn't come across as downright depressing, because the heights at which Krell is willing to climb suggest someone who is drawing the battle lines and awaiting to take it head-on. With a track like 'Struggle', Krell feels more at peace with his state of mind - his belonging to a state of acceptance and the denial of anything that isn't honest to the bone. The way the bass throbs and hits at the very essence of Krell's eery vocals and the drifting and swaying of synths suggests something more climatic and eventful rather than simply holding steady, waiting for the next big occurrence to come on the offensive.

Whether Krell will win the battle - with either his opponent, or as the album seeps deeper and deeper into a state of accepting one's fate, with himself - is unclear, and it's that very same unclear mystery here that works a charm on an album like this. 'Talking To You' has a more earthly and contemporary structure to its progression, tunings of strings finely balanced with the more droned textures oozing from off its surface. And all the while, Krell still manages to entice us with a pouring of emotion, the softness in parts balancing with the heart-wrenching outbursts of falsetto (that remind me very specifically of a certain Icelander and in some respect, a certain English fellow too) in others. And with album closer 'Ocean Floor For Everything', Krell's previous withdrawing of emotion finds itself coming into a sort of reconciliation with itself. 'But we never really playing for the worst of things, do we?' Krell utters amid all the brief and spacious statements of previous; the track billowing out into a heavenly plain of drumbeats and wondrous electronics thereafter.

But even if the track ends on a sense of forgiveness and overall acceptance of the wider circle of Krell's social existence, How To Dress Well still comes across as a sound that despite willing to meet its problems, remains unfortunately scarce on how to deal with such turmoil. This compensation, and the resulting descending-then-ascending waveform of 'Total Loss' paints Krell in all his overly-human overly-vulnerable tendencies and is a story of utmost tension as much as it is acceptance of fate and of his doomed conclusion so evidently suggested by the album's title. Above all though, the production benefactors: the minimal layering, the murky field of vision, the daunting passage of lyricism and subject matter all comes together and illustrates a man lost in his own mesmerizing tragedy. To fix this state of being is something we may not ever, or even be able to, answer in the foreseeable future, but what Krell has left in the wake of this downpour of drone, reverb and lack of secure clarity is less an S.O.S. to whoever it may concern, but rather a tiny pocketed muttering along the lines of F.A.M;S.Y.S: forget about me; save your soul.
~Jordan

8.7

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