When Tom Krell, the artist behind the How to Dress Well moniker, began releasing free EPs anonymously in the latter part of the 2000s, the mystique surrounding the artist putting out this lo-fi ambient dream pop made the moody atmosphere that much more compelling. An artist that seems perfect in an age of indie obsessed Internet users, it’s no wonder that How to Dress Well’s popularity spread quickly. With two cult hits under his belt, How to Dress Well now releases his third studio album, “What Is This Heart?”
The days of How to Dress Well being this anonymous character releasing music behind the scenes are long gone, as Krell’s face is front and center on the album cover. Gone, too, is the lo-fi modulation that was a staple of How to Dress Well’s older work. The other characteristics you would expect are still here, though, such as the high-pitched vocals and heavy use of reverb. The higher production value is evident not only in the vocals, but also in the crisp, cinematic instrumentation.
Although the recording quality is a major improvement over Love Remains, and even a slight step above Total Loss, it’s missing a key element that made these albums so unique. How to Dress Well’s latest album feels light on personality, and at times Krell seems to be going through the motions. It’s a problem that his work has flirted with before, but this is the first time that boredom really starts to seep in and over take the finer points of the album. Music that is so reliant on atmosphere and ambiance has to be really captivating to keep a listener interested throughout, and “What Is This Heart?” simply suffers from too many dull moments.
Things get off to a good start as “2 Years On (Shame Dream)” opens the album minimalistically, with a chilling piano fading into an acoustic guitar accompanying one of Krell’s best vocal performances. The third track, “Face Again”, shows the more experimental side of How to Dress Well, with a dark, more complex beat. Krell lowers the pitch on his vocals to create a haunting atmosphere. “Face Again” is an exhibition of How to Dress Well when all the pieces come together.
Unfortunately the fast start fizzles out as quickly as it came. Many of the remaining tracks blend together with similar downtempo production and lethargic vocals. “What Is This Heart?” is more of the same music that we’ve been getting from How to Dress Well over the last few years. It’s just not as interesting as the best stuff from him has been. Rather than creating the moody, relaxing atmosphere that it aims for, “What Is This Heart?” ends up coming across as boring and uninspired, and as a result can be a bit of a chore to listen to.
I would only recommend this to the biggest fans of How to Dress Well. If you absolutely love his sound you’ll probably still get enjoyment out of this as there truthfully aren’t many artists doing what he does. However, to the casual fans I would advise skipping this and re-listening to older work from How to Dress Well. It’s nice to have a relaxing album to fall asleep to, but “What Is This Heart?” is an album that will straight up put you to sleep.