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White Noise: How to Dress Well – Love Remains

Saturday, 14 May 2011

How to Dress Well – Love Remains

How to Dress Well, a.k.a Tom Krell from Brooklyn, is another star who surfaced from the ether of the internet as a fully formed artist with a unique concept. His sound is lost, swirling fragments of RnB, reconstituted into something ethereal, melancholy, and in perhaps what is its greatest success, catchy.

Single Ready For The World hit the web hard, and made his name in late 2010. His aching falsetto drifts across faltering, lo-fi soundscapes that incorporate clipped beats and many aspects of RnB and funk. Halfway through the song the beat relents, his voice builds and a pure electronic note sings out, it's a static cry into a vast darkness, and a perfect symbol of his music's general aesthetic: a mixture of choppy, distorted RnB instrumentals and an implacable emotional draw somewhere between nostalgia and longing. And this is music with a notable element of nostalgia, in the great tradition arguably started by Boards of Canada and before that Brian Eno, How to Dress Well appropriates elements of music we know and places them in a new setting. The high-pitched vocals of RnB classics are contorted into mournful cries, and these often play second fiddle to the scratchy beats and sounds which flow and ebb throughout the songs. Despite this, the melody of his (often indistinguishable) lyrics are still laden with hooks, as sorrowful as they are, and the loose strains of rhythm and melody which fade in and recede feel as if they are always there, lurking in the vast, desolate soundscape. This is especially notable in the recurring snatch of a funky tune which appears in Endless Rain only to fade out again, but the technique can also be seen implemented more subtly, such as the ghosts of the vocals in My Body starting quietly and drifting off several times before the vocal track proper actually begins- there is a remarkable contingence to the world that his music creates.

Because of the alien re-appropriation of these recognisable genres into something quiet and echoing, the first few times I played through the album I got lost and couldn't really distinguish any particular highlights from the carefully layered mesh of sound. However, a pleasant surprise was that on relistening almost every track had its own interesting nuances and quiet hooks, I realised it was hard to pick out highlights because most of the album is a highlight. Suicide Dream 2 is achingly beautiful and elegaic, You Won't Need Me Where I'm Going has a real force to it and an insanely catchy vocal hook. Lover's Start sounds like radio heard through the wall transformed into a slow groove that disappears for a brief moment to leave his voice fragile and alone, the quick sound of a camera-shutter his only accompaniment. A couple of interesting cuts are the live track Walking This Dumb that hints at a more powerful, stronger side to his sound that perhaps comes out more in live performances, with its driving beat; while collaboration track Decisions (the standout track if I had to pick one) is simple and compelling; the combination of the hard-hitting beat and Krell's soaring vocals is here raised to an extraordinary and quasi-spiritual crescendo.

This album deals with contrasts, it is delicate yet there is a quiet strength to it, the music sometimes sounds lost and adrift in static but there are still hooks to keep you coming back for more. The unique sound is explored with a consistency and elegance and it makes this album more than easy to recommend.


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