Tom Krell, better known as How To Dress Well, has made no secret of his love of R&B. He sampled Soul for Real on his 2010 debut, Love Remains, and interpolated Ashanti on that album’s follow-up, 2012′s Total Loss. He’s spoken at length about how Janet Jackson’s 1997 confessional opus The Velvet Rope influenced the latter. On those records, these affinities were shrouded in a fog of distortion and echo, but his music has grown clearer and more direct over time — like the turning the sharpness knob on a tube TV.
Some thanks are due, no doubt, to the gentle hand of co-producer Rodaidh McDonald (the xx, King Krule), but on his latest, “What Is This Heart?”, his voice is virtually reverb-free. He sounds bolder and more confident, as though he has less to prove and more to show. He now sounds less like the Weeknd’s nerdy friend who’s only read about drugs and more like The-Dream’s brother from another mother. Heart peaks midway, with the smooth synth stylings of “Words I Don’t Remember,” and ends with the eye-rollingly precious observation, “This world is such a pretty thing.” But, all in all, it’s a soothing listen that fits in somewhere between baby rocking and baby making.
There is one glaring problem, though: Speaking about his place on the R&B spectrum, Krell told Pitchfork, “I’m flattered when someone compares me to some super-famous artist, but I’m just not doing what they’re doing. Like, I love Miguel and his music, but there are some things he sings that I would never sing: Asking a girl if she wants to have sex with you because you don’t want to waste your time is a little crass. The music I want to make is somehow slightly more holy than that.” It’s a wince-worthy moment, one that lends an unfortunately literal spin to the term “holier-than-thou.” It’s enough to dash the goodwill you’ve built up for what seems like a respectful album and a terrible look for a white guy whose music has largely served to make R&B more palatable to white people. Here’s how to dress well: Don’t do that.