Throughout his short career, How to Dress Well’s Tom Krell has already garnered the tag of being ethereal and ultimately transcendent. On Love Remains, the fragments of his life were adorned with stellar hooks (“You Won’t Need Me Where I’m Goin’”) and moving, tremendously great melodies (“Endless Rain”); each song, paired with his voice, made for a winning combination. The entire time, the music always felt otherworldly and torn, because of the open production and sparse gestures employed by Krell. Fortunately, he’s taken little time to return with a denser, more glorious and perhaps, simply better album with Total Loss – a release that is timely and focused but above all, filled with sounds that both enrich and welcome Krell’s soaring voice.
Rightfully positioned, at the center of the album on “& It Was U,” the sounds recall Jamie Lidell in a springing affair, with righteous pop that swirls around Krell’s impeccable vocals. The space still feels bare because of the way Krell adds spectral atmospheres to both his voice and the music’s aesthetic sense as well. This causes for songs to swell over into a superb blend of styles and themes that all underline the album’s main focus, lost love. Truly awesome, these are the kinds of songs you’d expect to hear during the onset of winter with autumn harshly beckoning: Total Loss is a richer document than its predecessor but still, wholly personal.
“You were there for me when I was in trouble” are the opening words uttered by Krell on Total Loss and with the seemingly exposed revelation, you can certainly sense the struggle he’s describing. Starting where he left off, Krell uses this opening gesture – lonely, wistful, and distant in atmosphere and texture – as a catapult to Total Loss’s stunning new sounds. After the short, almost prelude, “Cold Nites” immediately changes all the pre-connections and changes the focus to beat-heavy, smoothly-tapered R&B. Whereas Love Remains was more a channeling of For Emma, Forever Ago, the spectrum on Total Loss ventures deeper into more of a layered and brilliant sound. On “World I Need You, Won’t Be Without You (Proem)”, Krell appropriately labels a song with the ‘prelude’ title and surrounds the listener with thick strings – flourishing instruments that encompasses both a stroke of diversity and still, complimentary exposures. Such downright thickness wasn’t as ubiquitous before, now it’s for the better.
This is definitely an open book with Krell intimately singing to various people throughout and while it comes to a bursting shot on “Set it Right,” the substantial weight of the guitars and soundscapes are heavy indeed. The subdued piano in the background, then back to the foreground again, always delicate, dictates the flow but Krell remains the star of the show. Although there is still more of the ambient feeling like on “Ocean Floor for Everything,” as opposed to the striking beat of “Running Back,” the former is a reflective way to close the album. Its steady burn, the fading drum pattern; it comes from underneath the water and spills over somewhere before the middle. There is a confident amount of swagger and control and the music is always coolly delivered; however, the daring highs Krell attempts work wonders and genuinely highlight the finest cuts on here.
With eleven songs, the album flows serenely well and sounds like a two part voyage; the second half much weightier, the first half perhaps more buoyant. Not that the feel of “Say My Name or Say Whatever” is upbeat, the speculative keyboard line alone acts as the combining force and nestled in the middle of the front half, Krell showcases a clear understanding of sublime sequencing. It still sounds like just one of the many details Krell has finely presented on Total Loss, an album just two years removed from his previous venture. One should be so lucky to receive such strong musical skill and that his aim is always this high on every single album; yet, it seems truly possible with How to Dress Well.