Friday, October 8, 2010
Review: How to Dress Well *Love Remains*
[Originally written for Pretty Much Amazing.]
I went through three stages of emotion while I listened to Love Remains, in preparation for this review. My first few spins were filled with anger toward Tom Krell, the man whose nom de studio is How to Dress Well. I thought the album’s aural hand grenades – the overly muddy mix, the shrill squawks that appear out of nowhere, Krell’s reverb-heavy vocals, the endless buzzing distortion – were unnecessary, pretentious indie window-dressings. Were I not reviewing the album, I would have given up and thrown it aside then and there.
As I dutifully listened on, my anger turned into disappointment. Krell’s indelible melodies began to sink in. If it weren’t for its insufferable production, this could have been a great album, I started to think. Still, I remained intrigued.
It was “Decisions,” one of Love Remains’ later tracks, that led to my mini-epiphany. Halfway through the song Krell sings a cappella to a girl; he reminds her to check her cell phone for his call, and then, suddenly, with layers of tracks bleeding into each other, a glorious wall of wailing falsetto enters. At that moment, I learned to stop worrying and love Love Remains.
Love Remains sounds like a transmission from another dimension, one permanently frozen in 1992, where ghosts not only exist but also record radio hits. These songs are incredibly familiar yet never-before-heard. Tom Krell has so thoroughly synthesized the sound of late-80s/early-90s R&B that the album seems like plagiarism. In this sense, Love Remains reminds me of Ariel Pink’s Before Today, an album that has yacht rock coded in its DNA. But where Pink appears to have his tongue firmly in cheek, Krell plays it straight. And however lo-fi its production, Before Today sounds like Let’s Talk About Love next to Love Remains.
There are moments of pop immediacy (“You Won’t Need Me Where I’m Goin’” and “My Body”) and a few booty shakers (the terrific and pulsing “Walking This Dumb” and “Mr. By & By”) on Love Remains. But Krell is at his best as a Rhythm-and-Blues Midas, somehow turning ethereal chorales into slow jams. “Ready for the World,” ”Lover’s Start,” and “Endless Rain” are alternate-reality R. Kelly singles par excellence.
When I first heard Love Remains, I was certain Tom Krell was hiding his flaws behind the murk of lo-fi studio trickery, as an unskilled pop singer would hide behind the false gloss of Auto-Tune. The truth is, the album’s production is the co-star on Love Remains. As near-perfect as these songs are, the whole overshadows its parts. Brilliant and beautiful, haunting and singularly original, How to Dress Well’s Love Remains ranks among the year’s best albums.