How to Dress Well - Total Loss
Before you delve ahead into this article, I implore you to just scroll up and look at the album cover for Total Loss. What is going on there? I think it's a bust of How To Dress Well's Tom Krell made of what looks like crappy plastic lying horizontally on a grey table. Why Tom? Why?
This is the RnB crooner's first release on the very hip Acephale records, which features some impressive releases from acts such as Elite Gymnastics, Pure X, Memorytapes and Korallreven. Excluding Just Once (Krell's orchestral reworking of old material) we have had a two year silence from this philosophy graduate turned pop star. Total Loss is his new and shiny release with a definite step up in production quality. From the opening synths which billow into the mix on 'When I Was in Trouble', it's evident that the sound has been considerably improved, even compared to the clearest moments of HTDW's debut LP Love Remains, which was a rather gritty affair from start to finish with Krell's syrup-sweet vocals cutting through grainy synths and blissfully cheap drum sounds.
Though How To Dress Well jumping into a studio and getting some expensive synths to play with sounds like it can only be a good thing, I do miss the distorted haze found on much of his previous album. While tracks like 'How Many?' and 'Set it Right' still cling on to that noisy side of Krell's sound, many of them are just too polished for me. 'Cold Nites', though brilliantly catchy, is a tad overproduced which really does stop me enjoying the track as much as I could. With that one gripe on production aside most of the electronics on this album are fantastic. Tracks like the jumpy 'Say my Name or Say Whatever' or the percussive 'Struggle' could easily stand up as brilliantly enticing instrumental tracks. Krell really has an ear for knowing when a vocal line needs a simple drum kick behind it or a full on overwhelming synth surge something which he uses to his advantage on this album.
Obviously won over following his dip into the world of orchestral strings on Just Once, the inclusion of a string section on Total Loss' instrumental 'World I Need You, Won't Be Without You (Proem)' works wonders for the track, and akbum. Another leftfield move from Krell is the weird lag on the vocals in the beautiful closing track 'Ocean Floor of Everything'; kind of like the worst delay you have ever heard. It's a very small detail but it really catches you off guard in a very good way.
I'm not ashamed to say that listening to this album gave me goose bumps; Krell sure knows how to pen a great one-liner, crooning such tear-jerkers as "Dear mumma did you tell me everything was gonna be right?" or "You were hoping for the days when you could say safely / I have my place, I have my home, I have my future." There is such a deep sadness within his voice that I can't help but wonder if the title of this album is a reference to him losing something close to him. I only wish I could hear every lyric clearly as some of them do get washed up in the mix with all the reverb.
Every track here carries considerable merit, but the one that I just cannot listen to without slamming the next button is '& It Was U'. Krell unfortunately just crosses that invisible line between upbeat RnB into pop cheese, which only the late King of Pop himself managed to pull off . That one track aside, the album is a pleasant experience from start to finish with beautiful vocals and subtle yet fantastic synths. Krell's songwriting is also extremely consistent especially compared to some of his previous more hit-and-miss releases. If you can turn a blind eye to the pretty dodgy album cover, and that one ill-fated song I mentioned, you have one hell of an album on your hands.