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How to Dress Well - Total Loss

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Artist: How to Dress Well

Album: Total Loss

Label: Acéphale

Review date: Sep. 17, 2012

Sorry, I have to ask: Who is this record for? What are you supposed to do while it’s playing? Making-out, the only potential pastime I can imagine for it, would require taking it a little more seriously than seems feasible. I suppose mid-20s office jobbers might listen to this on headphones in the cubicle, or if you move in the retail sector, on the in-house playlist while re-folding deep V-necks. Music to surf the net to, shop to, file your taxes to. Times when you don’t need to be in a mood.

There’s also a certain demographic currently enjoying the 1990s’ R&B revival. Having only intermittently followed mainstream radio and chart music for the majority of my life, I was aware of, but never developed an enthusiasm for the acts being referenced by How To Dress Well and their ilk. I still won’t go out of my way to listen to it, but I can appreciate it now. There were some timeless songs voiced by some world class singers putting their all into it — Bell Biv Devoe, Mariah Carey, Al B Sure, Boyz II Men, the list stretches on and on. Which brings us to the crux of the issue with Tom Krell’s How To Dress Well. Beyond confirming the fact that truly nothing is off limits at this point, Krell’s efforts underline some vital disparities between the original practitioners and their current aspirants.

Namely, is it too much to ask someone working in the Pop/R&B tradition to write a melody? ‘Cause I’m starting to feel like a broken record here. If you want to take an Aaliyah slow-jam as the base for your entire operation, have at it. But you must, must, MUST think about what made this artist a pop phenomenon. There was a voice, a songwriting team, charisma, a big-game producer, or all of the above that made this happen. Oh, and energy. How To Dress Well exhibits none of the traits of the music and groups of the era he so desperately wants to be aligned with. The closest he’s getting is his press photo. You can rock those Fila warm-up sweats all day, my man. No one can take that away from you.

Krell seems like a victim of his own good intentions. There’s a kernel of an idea here. Take the vocal ambitions and romantic ovations of ‘90s R&B and apply it to a modern production aesthetic. The problem with the execution here stems mainly from an inability to bring a sense of dynamic tension to the table. The songs meander along lugubriously, sounding like a guy practicing falsetto runs in a crypt over some half-hearted dubstep tracks, without a hook in site. Shift this a couple steps further back into the shadows, and we could have a real viable hot-topic fake genre going. R&B doomstep. Not a bad prospect, and no one would expect you to write a hook.

By Jon Treneff

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