How to Dress Well

Love Remains

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Despite the abundance of lo-fi acts and artists revisiting the sounds of their childhood in 2010, How to Dress Well remained unique. Tom Krell’s fractured background, which included loving late-‘80s R&B as a little boy, playing in bands throughout high school, and recording drone music in college and beyond, came together as something organic in Love Remains. Krell released many of these songs in a prolific burst of free EPs in late 2009 and early 2010, garnering buzz from critics who treated them like aural Rorschach blots, hearing Panda Bear, Michael Jackson, dubstep, Shai, and Bon Iver in Krell’s dense, soulful songs. Though it’s perfect fodder for analyzing, Love Remains doesn’t sound calculated -- often, it sounds like it was recorded by accident. The album is so lo-fi that it hisses, clips, and goes into the red regularly, but Krell makes the most of this, evoking the power of memories, dreams, and impressions. These songs weren’t meant to be heard clearly -- tracks such as “You Hold the Water” sound like they’re seeping through walls, or like they’re half-remembered, with memories and emotions circling in a feedback loop that would overload any recording equipment. Krell reworks the R&B of his childhood just as deftly as he repurposes Love Remains’ conventionally bad recording techniques. The fluidity of the melodies and the spare beats are rooted in late-‘80s/early-‘90s R&B -- it’s no coincidence that one of How to Dress Well’s definitive songs, “Ready for the World,” shares its name with the ‘80s R&B group. However, Krell isn’t aping this style so much as transforming it into an expression of what it means to him; on “My Body,” he croons, “I was hopin’ for the rain, I was hopin’ for you,” surrounded by blissful and desolate electronics before the track cuts off abruptly, like someone turned off the radio. Krell’s vocals, which range from angelic sighs to piercing falsettos, are the conduit for Love Remains’ emotions, channeling regret on “Suicide Dream 2” and getting lost in the moment on “Can’t See My Own Face.” At times things approach soundtrack-like abstraction, particularly on “Walking This Dumb,” a live recording that sounds like it was captured about 500 yards away from the club. However, as Love Remains progresses, the songs get closer to Krell's influences, and while “Lover’s Start” and “Decisions” might be a hair less intriguing than the album’s more damaged cuts, they show that How to Dress Well doesn’t need to be tampered with to have impact. Were they recorded and produced more cleanly, they could be hits, but that’s not the point of Krell’s music: its unfinished, imperfect quality makes it an intimate experience for listeners, letting them connect the dots in their own ways. Love Remains is a striking debut, one that speaks to how we listen to and remember music we love, and the impact it makes on everything else we hear.

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