When one-man R&B deconstructionist Tom Krell, aka How to Dress Well, released his 2010 debut Love Remains, he was one of a a host of bedroom artists – Krell, plus James Blake, the Weeknd and others – re-interpreting FM-radio slow jams and twisting the slinky genre into new shapes. Since then, the number of contemporaries has grown while unchartered paths have shrunk, so it’s commendable that two years later, Krell has distinguished himself again, this time with tighter arrangements and more substantive lyrics.
While Love Remains‘ longing murmurs and blown-out falsettos kept listeners at a distance, Total Loss sees Krell laying out his diary pages in tight close-up for everyone to read. Written while he was grieving the death of his best friend and recovering from a recent breakup, songs like “Cold Nites,” “Running Back” and “How Many?” bare the heartbreak in Krell’s somber croon. Without the low fidelity of his previous offerings (and with help from the xx producer Rodaidh McDonald) it’s clear that the scratches and crackles weren’t a cover for a lack of a voice: Krell’s falsetto soars when refined. It’s a remarkable evolution: Somewhere in the time he was fine-tuning his warped take on the genre, How to Dress Well has moved towards becoming a real R&B artist.