Producer/songwriter Tom Krell has arrived. What started in 2009 as the habitual posting of free digital EPs, has quickly blossomed into the first stages of a fully realized -- and critically acclaimed -- career.
Under the stage name How to Dress Well, Krell has released a commissioned orchestral EP, as well as two full-length LPs that feature his distinctive falsetto over ambient noise and mutated R&B beats. His latest, Total Loss, was released in September, and Krell will be playing much of it at Soda Bar when he performs there Sunday night.
The album is a stark contrast to his debut, 2010’s Love Remains, but Krell still can’t escape being lumped in with the latest crop of highly touted neo-R&B acts like the Weeknd and Frank Ocean – something the singer and experimental artist doesn’t understand.
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“I actually can’t believe that hasn’t been quelled with the new album,” Krell said from his adopted hometown of Chicago. “To me, Total Loss is a folk record. But instead of being the 1920s interpretation, with people sitting on a porch playing guitars and talking about the new world, it’s a folk record made for a global, post-metropolitan, late-capitalist, post-modern, chaos-filled world. Folk records were always created to provide a reprieve from the ills of the current social situation. And I’m trying to do that – but instead of guitars, with samples and wintery noise.”
Where Love Remains was a murky, fragmented and dark album created from personal loss and the processing of pain, Total Loss is all about recovery and moving forward.
“It’s one of the primary reasons for the different sounds on the new record,” Krell said. “Both in terms of form and content, this record is more dynamic. It’s not just grinding, noisy, depressing sounds. It’s filled with hopeful sounds and other emotional stations. It’s tracing the movement from hazy to clear and from sadness to joy. These are the gestures of the record.”
And while fans have only had a few short months to let the new album sink in, Krell is already working on the follow-up.
“I have about 25 demos done for another record,” Krell said. “And there are so many different kinds of sounds on it. I lived in Berlin over the summer, and all I had was a guitar, so there’s quite a bit of that on it, as well as all kinds of new sounds."
It’s at this point that Krell played some of the demos for me. Even over the crackling phone line, the snippets of new songs are captivating, intriguing and, perhaps, most important, nothing much like the two albums that came before them.
“I just keep going in all the directions that I see fit,” he says. “And, really, that’s the goal.”
Blogger Scott McDonald covers music in San Diego for a few different publications and is the editor of Eight24.com