PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


How to Dress Well: Care

Photo: Ben Tricklebank

How to Dress Well's first album since 2012's Total Loss emerges as a sign of optimism in our all-too turbulent times.

How to Dress Well


Label: Domino
US Release Date: 2016-09-23

Tom Krell writes music with the mindset of someone who leaves their diary open to a page they want you to read. How to Dress Well, Krell's psychic safety valve for his musical dreamscapes, played like a Ready for the World and '90s neo-soul homage in its infancy. In 2009, the then 25-year-old Krell shared his mission statement anonymously in three otherworldly EPs on his blog. His lo-fi lyrical poem "Ready for the World" flirted with "Love You Down's" melody before manifesting itself into his own composition, murky and poignant without the pretention of a tribute.

Recognizing How to Dress Well's unique interpretation of contemporary R&B, many flocked to Krell's blog to listen to his next affectation. Popularity in bloom, Krell wrote his first full-length album, Love Remains, with hints of and nods toward Jodeci and Keith Sweat's quiet storm tracks. Krell understood the internal nature of early-to-mid '90s R&B. "Suicide Dream 2" toyed with spooky atmospherics, but the underlying melodies flooded the dreamscapes painted with slow, passionate strokes. Ghostly, his melodies resembled the tender nature of the finest slow jams. Likewise, the unevenly hued ambience equaled Grouper's darkened textures. The difference between Krell and Liz Harris' clouded textures was the soul-tinged vocals haunting throughout Love Remains.

2012's Total Loss diverted slightly from Love Remains. Production shifted from lo-fi to quality mastered tracks, although Krell kept the techniques he developed in How to Dress Well's nascent stages. Loops and samples filled "Say My Name or Say Whatever", and the group's live performances fulfilled the sonic requirements to match the quality of the recordings. On the other hand, "What Is This Heart" became his artistic high-water mark, combining Krell's affinity for perverting loops and melodies with sophisticated song writing.

Two years and a PhD in Philosophy from DePaul later, Care creeps up like a cat walking on a bed of cotton balls in a topsy-turvy moment when the whole world has gone mad. "Can't You Tell" embraces familiar R&B lyrical tropes; yet, it surges forward with a tempo faster than any previous How To Dress Well release. Ebullient, the vocal production swells and layers itself over and over on top of the mid-tempo beat that one could easily hear Janet Jackson or Frank Ocean's flair on a mixtape. Wish fulfillment, of course, but Krell sells the "Can't You Tell" hook as well as Ocean or The Weeknd.

Care comes at a time when a forceful contrast is needed amidst the daily reminders of human beings committing horrible atrocities: police shootings, turbulent election cycle, and Aleppo. Krell could have written pessimistic commentaries concerning his surroundings, especially one close to his own heart, the Orlando nightclub massacre -- the largest mass shooting in American history. Instead, Krell goes high when the world goes low. "What's Up" showcases Krell's capacity to sing in tight spaces, holding fast to the rhythms, spitting triplet melodies, unlike his previous musical offerings. "They'll Take Everything" looks at the abyss with hope. His falsetto under control, he warns "When it is all said and done / They'll take everything you have", but without the cynicism that reflects our time. Like a reassuring hand grasping onto a despondent soul's shoulder, Krell is here to remind us that even after losing everything, the irony is that they have not taken your spirit.

Steering away from Blakean textures, "Time Was Meant to Say" exhibits how far Krell has come as a songwriter. The rhythm bounces between the slowcore ambience he perfected and unfamiliar up-tempo territories that flashes like lightening, only to return to the familiar future beat downtempos bearing Krell's fingerprints.

If How to Dress Well returned with Love Remains 2.0, ride-or-die fans would grow suspicious of his artistic stagnancy. Each song pushes against its own history, wrestling with the textured parts it once fully embraced, and ultimately letting the tattered remains go. Replacing the tattered remains are Krell's ambitions to be something more than an artist embraced by the indie community. Hooks abound, he aspires to hear himself on the same radio stations next to the same artists he respects and reveres. How to Dress Well is ready for the world, and Care steps forward and into the space occupied by mainstream pop artists.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Is Carl Nevill's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.