How To Dress Well satisfies and frustrates equally on ‘Care’
It’s gutsy to sing. It’s even gutsier to sing in a really high range. Gutsiest, perhaps, is doing all of that with an almost surprising array of electronics as accompaniment.
Tom Krell, also known as How To Dress Well, does all of this, and does it with relative ease. He did it particularly well in 2010 on Love Remains, his debut album, and maybe even better four years later, with What Is This Heart?
Care, released Sept. 23, follows accordingly. While the entire project should be prefaced with a warning of its polarizing (if not all-encompassing) nature — Krell’s nasally vocals can grow tiresome and simply aren’t to the tastes of some, and a distaste of his vocal style pretty much definitively means a distaste or the entire album — the end product is certainly rewarding. In this sense, it can simultaneously be satisfactory and/or frustratingly unapologetic.
That being said, it’s mostly satisfactory. And the highest note of the entire album is also the first.
“Can’t You Tell,” arguably the jumpiest track, provides the first of many infectious hooks. “Wanna lay you down and take you right there / Take you right there / Can’t you tell?” It is here that Krell showcases potentially his greatest (and most unique) skill — a seamless blend of intimacy and experimentation. An organized jumble of echoing background vocals and serene synths are proper compliments of the vulnerable lyricism.
This momentum carries through the first few tracks. On “Salt Song,” a cheeky whistle parlays into an appropriately straining outro. Immediately after, “What’s Up” features somewhat tropical production (“If you make a mess of me, I wouldn’t change one thing”) that works with lovey-dovey declaration.
Krell is so eager, so willing to play with the melodies behind his voice and it feels refreshing. Concurrently, however, the most glaring problem of the album arises: remaining genuine for the entire duration of it. Occasionally, lines feel manufactured. In “Time Was Meant To Stay,” Krell pleads “But I know when the night is long you feel like you can’t go / On with the charade, the day to day gets bleak / Watch the bodies all around you fall like snow / But I’m standing here today babe, yeah you know that you gotta stay.” This love letter of a hook plays, to be sure, but it’s just kind of tired. We’ve heard it — or something that sounds a lot like it — before.
It’s also difficult at times to keep from discounting How To Dress Well’s style as being, well, outdated. Counter to that idea, however, is the discomfort of a package so developed in such a heavily ethereal manner. Hence the aforementioned polarizing nature of the sound, which is, really more than anything else, proof of a dynamic listening experience. This progressiveness makes up for Care’s sometimes repetitive nature.
It picks up the continuity of the album when energy drops off. “I Was Terrible,” dancey as it is, arrives just in time behind the relatively sleepy “Burning Up.” Such is emblematic of the project, a sort of yin-yang in both concept and probable reception.
Distilled down, Care is something new, something a listener can explore with legitimate intrigue. Ultimately defined by its idiosyncrasies (both good and bad), it proves to be an easy tradeoff — one in which the “good” quirks win out.
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