Finally one of the most anticipated albums of 2012 is streaming on the internet. Experimental R&B artist Tom Krell aka How To Dress Well’s follow up to his critically acclaimed debut album from last year will be out on Acephalè/Weird World next week and can be pre-ordered now. He is ready for a bigger audience with “Total Loss”, and the momentum is on his side, with The Weeknd and Frank Ocean paving the way for a R&B revival in the last year. While “Love Remains” was often droned out and lo-fi, as if he was hiding behind a curtain of sounds, this record sees him confidently displaying his feelings.
Those feelings are even more bleak than on the debut, but so so beautifully presented. And don’t get me wrong, he still handles his tunes with an amount of care that indicates they could break at any sudden movement. But he seems at home in them now, confronting them head-on and evoking strong emotions in the listener by being that much more accessible. Maybe on the last record he still had to lose something – because love remained – and anxiously and alone tried to hold on to that; accepting total loss can set you free and let you grow. And I feel like that has happened to Krell. He himself said this album is about relieving pain by sharing it.
His high voice is even more in the center of most tracks now, still heavy on the reverb, but loud and clear for the most part. He is using strings to add to the piano now, and while the instrumentation is holding back in general, there are bursts of beats or harmonies in more songs than not. And most are longer and follow a more conventional structure now, making “Total Loss” less experimental in the end. But he did not turn into another Frank Ocean – which is a damn good thing – keeping it interesting and unsettling. “Running Back” and “& It Was U” maybe are the most conventional R&B songs on the album, and while the beginning of the album is nice, it didn’t surprise or touch me too intensely.
But the album really picks up in the second half, “Struggle” right after the inderlude being the one to kick it off when halfway in the snare sets in. From then on, Krell had me hooked with the sweet keyboard line on “How Many?”, the guitar underneath the strings on “Talking to you” and the lower voice sample on the hymnal album centerpiece “Set it right”, in which he heartbreakingly lists all the people he misses. The prereleased “Ocean Floor for Everything” was strong on its own, but is a masterpiece as the album closer. “Total Loss” did not fall short of the high expectations, and is a strong contender for one of the front spots in any 2012 end-year-list.