“The only bad part about flying is having to come back down to the fucking world”.
Words heard at the beginnings of Say My Name or Say Whatever, a song featured on How To Dress Well’s second full-length release Total Loss. How To Dress Well, real name Tom Krell- a Brooklyn boy now residing in Berlin- first came to our attention two years ago; his debut record Love Remains introduced many of us to his ethereal, haunting vocals and a fresh interesting take on R&B. Indeed, Love Remains helped set the fires of a new genre which, just a year or so later, spawned the likes of Frank Ocean and The Weeknd. Although, it must be said that Krell tries to respectfully distance himself from such comparisons.
Total Loss was written at a time of great personal sadness for Krell and this can be seen in its content. It is as much a view into his life at a time of great loss as it makes you, the listener look back at stages in your life where you lost someone important too. Not long before the release of Love Remains his best friend died suddenly – his heart stopped beating in his sleep – closely followed by the death of a close uncle; couple this with his mother suffering from mental health issues then it is easy to see why there is such an outpouring of emotion on Total Loss.
But, there are many exciting positives to be taken from this record in that while Love Remains contained layers of sound, buckets of feelings and a voice that you often struggled to decipher, Total Loss sees a much better usage of his greatest asset, that haunting, falsetto voice of his is being put to much better use this time round. Krell’s confidence has clearly grown in the years since his debut; you wouldn’t think this same man used to sing over his own songs at his live shows, shouting out track numbers to the sound technician whilst on stage.
The likes of World I Need You, Won’t Be Without You and its soothing, tearful orchestration sits you on the chapel bench of every funeral you’ve ever attended, memories of which flush back uncontrollably. And, moments such as “Momma, I miss ya & Dad, I miss ya” on Set It Right only help to remind you of the fact that no one’s around forever and makes you think of those special people you’ve lost touch with.
Total Loss makes use of intuitive hip hop beats, layers of complex sound, sweet orchestration, a couple of Michael Jackson like moments and much, much more. While Krell may have started a wave of similar artists seeing many played in horrible, hipster shops, this is not how this genre is meant to be experienced. I sincerely hope this doesn’t happen here, as it’s so much more than a soundtrack for buying overpriced tat.
The melancholy and heartbreak conveyed throughout Total Loss makes it – when you’re not in the best frame of mind – a hard listen, due to its power in reminding the listener of his or her own personal losses.
Total Loss may have been Krell’s method of mourning, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be yours too.
Words: Gavin Bevan