- With his 2010 debut Love Remains, How To Dress Well helped spearhead a mini-renaissance of R&B singing in indie, though his own music has never sat comfortably in either of those categories. Tom Krell, the singer-songwriter behind the project, is at this point more likely to make use of tinkling pianos and swelling strings than murky R&B samples, and prefers confessional lyrics to the repetitive, unintelligible fragments he once favored. In the three and a half years since Love Remains, his work has gone from conceptual to concrete, the wispy suggestiveness of his early singles giving way to sounds that are almost uncanny in their immediacy.
Krell's latest album reveals him as an accomplished songwriter willing to put his darkest emotions on display. Krell has spoken in the past about his struggle with depression, and What Is This Heart? is jarringly forthright about anger, grief and—even more so than Krell's last album, 2012's gorgeous sea-change Total Loss—destructive impulses. On the single "Face Again," Krell confesses: "I look into the future and see just so little light." On the next song, he admits to ambivalent feelings about a relationship: "I wanna see you fall / and know somehow the world went wrong."
Krell's lyrics are often painfully candid, but this harshness doesn't extend to the music, which is lush and often layered with details that push it in unexpected directions. On "Words I Don't Remember," he layers an almost monastic series of vocal lines, then dices them up into rhythmic fragments, introducing an electronic sensuality to the song's beatific atmosphere. This breakdown, along with a foggy invocation of the guitar solo from Prince's "Purple Rain," suggests associative memory more than genre—a theme that reappears at the end of "Very Best Friend," which samples an interview from the 2012 documentary Stories We Tell.
As always, the common thread is Krell's voice; as the album art suggests, he stays front and center. The ear-wormy quality is still there, showcasing Krell's instinctive sense of melody. His technical skills are also easier to hear, with a swooping falsetto often softening a quick, percussive delivery that packs a jumble of words into a single line. You can choose to listen closely or let the rhythm wash over you.
Much of What Is This Heart? explores the relationship between formal, classically arranged music and technology-savvy pop—a fitting parallel to Krell's emotionally tangled lyrics, but one that also implies curiosity and hopefulness. The wheedling, mechanical churn that opens "Childhood Faith in Everything (Everything Must Change, Everything Must Stay the Same)" is as zen-like a sound as you're likely to hear in any slow-burning dance track. Krell's still part of a pop vanguard, but his music is more than ever a welcoming gesture.
01. 2 Years On (Shame Dream)
02. What You Wanted
03. Face Again
04. See You Fall
05. Repeat Pleasure
06. Words I Don't Remember
07. Pour Cyril
08. Precious Love
09. Childhood Faith In Love (Everything Must Change Everything Must Stay The Same)
10. A Power
11. Very Best Friend 4:24
12. House Inside (Future Is Older Than The Past)
13. So Easy For Pleasure
14. Let U Know