Day 199 – #179. How to Dress Well – Total Loss

How to Dress Well - Total Loss Album Review

I love to fly.
It’s just you’re alone, there’s peace and quiet, nothing around you but clear blue sky.
No one to hassle you. No one to tell you where to go or what to do.
The only bad part about flying is having to come back down to the fuckin’ world.

I wrote earlier this year about How to Dress Well’s debut album Love Remains, an album full of brilliant and promising flashes of genius.

But in my haste to provide a post for the day (albeit on a borrowed computer due to being robbed in Miami just two days prior, with the previous two day’s posts being written on my iPhone), I failed to emphasize a few points and completely abandoned another.

First, my complete abandonment of the disconnection between Tom Krell and his voice.

The human in question:

Tom Krell, not Tom Ford.

The voice in question:

How did a voice like that come out of a sorta frail white dude who bares some semblance of the same body type as I do?

While I’d like to believe that nothing surprises me anywhere, I wouldn’t be telling the truth. In terms of my personal character traits, perhaps both my greatest strength and biggest weakness is being stoked or surprised about everything. I am the literal antithesis of Questlove, human civilization’s most eternally demure citizen.

How could anyone be so passive or indifferent? General malaise is so much worse than disliking something because at least you have a formed opinion or stance rather than a shoulder shrug.

I say that because each time I listen to Tom Krell, I can’t even comprehend the man’s pipes. According to his bio info, he grew up listening to soul and R&B, which accounts for his other-worldly vocals.

But even more jarring than his delicate, “How does he reach that octave without his vocal chords imploding?” approach to singing, and the minimalistic R&B and hip-hop beats to his tracks are the album’s lyrics.

Krell, like Tim Kasher and Kevin Devine before him, is an open book about his feelings. And while it may only be his second album, Krell has stated in interviews that on the other side of relative independent music success is the human element: at the end of the day, he is still just a vulnerable person.

This is evidenced by the heavy lyrics throughout Total Loss: eloquent but concise. On opener “When I Was in Trouble,” Krell invokes his mother’s spirit through difficulties on the road, though she is thankfully still very much alive. On “Set it Right,” he calls out by name all of the people he misses while on tour, the tune backed by a very Kanye West-esque beat.

Say My Name or Say Whatever” opens with the quote that began this post, which comes from Mary Ellen Mark’s 1984 film Streetwise. In retrospect, I regret including Total Loss in my “Honorable Mentions” for the top albums of 2012, because since the end of the last year, it’s actually surpassed many of the albums on that list for me. The monologue from Streetwise is a perfect fit for the vibe of the album – street savvy with its hip-hop beats but still unguarded.

So where Love Remains was a work-in-progress, much of Total Loss is fully fleshed out – the exception being a few of the songs on the tail end of this record. “Struggle” at track 7 is a recreation of a song on this very album (“When I Was in Trouble”). Perhaps “extension” is a better term. Same goes for “Talking to You,” which retains much of the same recurring hook and melody.

Closer “Ocean Floor for Everything” seems to be the only song hellbent on recapturing the pace of the first 6 songs. It’s a fuzzy, ethereal drift, and its climactic final 90 seconds could be the highlight of the whole album.

My minor criticism aside, there is so much to like about this album and artist. Much of this record sounds like swimming through unexplored patches of ocean: underwater and mysterious. This might sound ridiculous or hyperbolic, but listen to “When I Was in Trouble” and try to tell me that’s not the feeling you get.

Without question, Tom Krell is an artist to keep on your radar for his next release.

From Total Loss, this is “Running Back” –

Standout tracks: “Say My Name or Say Whatever” and “Cold Nites” and “Set it Right”
Weakest track: The back-side of this album doesn’t have anywhere near the identity that the first 6 tracks do.

RIYL: Lo-fi experimental with hip-hop beats? Ambient electronic with glass shattering highs. Active Child.




  1. Pingback: Day 203 – #1. Active Child – You Are All I See | One Record Per Day

  2. Pingback: » Photos: How to Dress Well – U Street Music Hall alex_schelldorf

  3. Pingback: Photos: How to Dress Well – U Street Music Hall | alex schelldorf

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s