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How To Dress Well “Total Loss”: Album Review

Weird World (2012)

Written during a ‘very unhappy and confused period’ which saw him lose his best friend and uncle, deal with the break-up of a relationship and battle with depression, Brooklyn producer Tom Krell’s second album under the guise of How To Dress Well is understandably hardly a barrel of laughs.

Indeed, the ghostly R&B of Total Loss is drenched in so much melancholy that it makes co-producer Rodaidh McDonald’s previous cohorts, eternal miserablists The xx, sound like they’ve escaped from High School Musical.

“Say My Name or Say Whatever” begins with a spoken excerpt from a homeless teenager (taken from 1984 documentary Streetwise) before an effect which resembles a body splashing into the sea leads into an off-kilter piano loop which is as eerie as it is hypnotic. “Set It Right” sees Krell devastatingly reel off a list of all the people he’s lost (“Daddy, I miss you”) in-between a tortured howling wall of noise. The anguished “Talking To You” is a slightly schizophrenic ballad which sees Krell’s achingly fragile falsetto tones duet with his own mid-range croon against a backdrop of skittering early Bjork-esque percussion.

The follow-up to 2010’s equally solemn Love Remains is therefore not exactly for the faint-hearted. But amidst the overwhelming, if undeniably captivating, sadness, there’s a pop sensibility which prove Krell’s claim that both Mariah Carey and Ukranian-Canadian experimental pianist Lubomyr Melynk inspired the album wasn’t just a snappy soundbite designed to make him appear even more intriguing.

The emphatic Timbaland-style beats and melodramatic piano hooks of “Cold Nites” echoes the early 00s R&B of Justin Timberlake, albeit if it had been given an ambien. “& It Was You” starts out as Off The Wall-era Jacko pastiche before slowly building into a surprisingly slinky slice of electro-funk, while The King of Pop’s influence is also all over the New Jack Swing balladry of “Running Back” with its breathy yelps and finger-clicking grooves. There’s even a neo-classical instrumental in the shape of “World I Need You, Won’t Be Without You (Proem),” whose gorgeous sweeping string arrangement wouldn’t sound out of place on Downton Abbey.

But ultimately, the aptly-titled Total Loss is defined by its heartbreak, a theme which Krell can convey just as devastatingly as Frank Ocean, The Weeknd and the mountain of other R&B chillwave acts currently swarming the hipster circle. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with should the next few years be hopefully less traumatic.

3.5 / 5 stars     

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About the Author


Jon O'Brien's love of music began as a six-year-old after becoming bizarrely transfixed with the 80s poodle rock of Heart, Europe and Def Leppard. Switching his attention to pop icon Michael Jackson, he then became addicted to the UK Top 40, becoming a rather pointless walking Wikipedia of chart positions in the process. Driving his poor neighbors up the wall while learning to play the drums as a teen, he toyed with the idea of becoming a musician, but in studying Journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, he realized heÕd rather write about music than perform it. Since then, he's written thousands of reviews and biographies on everything from bubblegum pop to death metal, but electronica remains his main passion, with everything from Aphex Twin to Zero 7 in his spare room-consuming record collection. Jon resides in northwest England near Liverpool.

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Posted in: Album Reviews, Electronic Music, Featured


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