How To Dress Well (Tom Krell) released Total Loss in the midst of a year that elevated the nu-RNB scene to new heights with acts like Jessie Ware, AlunaGeorge and The Weeknd getting both critical and commercial acclaim. Krell’s inspiration for the record came little from his record collection. The album is laced with heartbreak and upholstered by an overbearing sense of loneliness. The second line we hear is “you could tell for me that life was a struggle.” It’s a remarkable honesty which dices on intrusion from the listener when Krell names those he misses on ‘Set It Right’. No other record of 2012 poured out so much with such little theatrics. The LP carries little narrative, and next to no descriptive lyricism. It’s a sound that was born out of dance floors but has morphed in to something cold and candid.
The stylish grooves of Krell’s love for Bobby Brown and Michael Jackson are evident when the finishing snaps of ‘Running Back’ become the sashay-friendly opening clicks of ‘& It Was U‘. This is the most beat driven moment of the entire release with the falsetto vocals springing off of the beats showcasing the production of Rodaidh MacDonald who has worked with similarly raw creatives like The Xx and King Krule. At the start of ‘Say My Name or Say Whatever’ there is a sampling of a boy concluding “the only bad thing about flying is having to come back down to the fucking world.” before the song becomes a snowballing multi-layered dreamy track with the vocals often getting lost in the sheer mass of sound. The LP is made up of songs that are largely conventional never much beating the five minute mark and often carrying masked but heavy hooks it is the autobiographical nature of Krell as a writer that shines through on this album. ‘Talking To You’ bows out on the line “I don’t know what you did to me”. This encapsulates the voice of How To Dress Well and the mood of this record. It’s lost, at times its aimless but it’s always fervent and it always carries an enthralling intensity.
It’s hard to speak about this record without just becoming staggeringly astounded by what How To Dress Well wrote and sung about. Themes like addiction, insecurity and inhibition are often costumed for the sake of musicality in modern music. Metaphors are often swept in to ham up emotions so they sound more ernest on record but Tom Krell has created an ideal case study for pure honesty. In the final thirty seconds of ‘Ocean Floor For Everything’ the breathy vocals and amorphously optimistic tones leave a lasting feeling of relief. A flicker of reassurance after How To Dress Well provide an incomparably upright explanation of what is meant by Total Loss.
Words: Duncan Harrison