“What Is This Heart?” | ALBUM
Domino / Weird World | LABEL
24 June 2014 | RELEASE DATE
9.5 | 10
When Tom Krell first debuted his How To Dress Well project in late 2009, what would soon be known as indie R&B was still in its infancy. Over the course of the five years since, both Frank Ocean and The Weeknd burst onto the scene with stunning debuts, while other artists such as Rhye, Autre Ne Veut, Miguel, Grimes, and Jessie Ware sprung up in their wake. So here we are, five years later, and Krell’s musical outlet, while being one of the forefathers of the genre, has been overshadowed by his talented peers. That seems to be a position Krell is more than comfortable with; yet on “What Is This Heart?” Krell steps out in his biggest way yet, delivering one of the finest, most assured albums of 2014, a collection of emotionally present records that gives us an even better idea of what How To Dress Well is, and can be in the future.
The acoustic opener “2 Years On (Shame Dream)” is a stunner in its simplicity and lyrical honesty. While sonically the track in no way hints at the musical complexity of the record that follows, the track’s lyrics are a perfect introduction to Krell’s heart-wrenching stylings, which are Krell’s most personal to date, while being housed in his most engaging compositions thus far. “Repeat Pleasure”, “Precious Love”, and “Very Best Friend” are the type of unabashedly joyous pop constructs usually reserved for pop music’s highest sellers, not artists referred to as “indie”. That they resonate on a personal level speaks to the emotion Krell is able to pump into each of these tracks.
“What Is This Heart?” is by and large How to Dress Well’s biggest departure from the strain of rhythm and blues he helped popularize, while not wholly turning its back on what made his music so compelling in the first place. There’s a sharpness to these recordings lacking on his previous efforts, almost as if he’s finally gained the confidence to truly be heard. Case in point, nowhere on 2010’s Love Remains or Total Loss (2012) would something as euphoric as Krell singing, “even broken my heart will go on” work as well as it does on “Repeat Pleasure”, How to Dress Well’s best song to date, if it weren’t for the track that follows it, the opus “Words I Don’t Remember”. That track preceded the album’s release, and turned heads immediately. No one expected to hear something so expansive from an artist who had otherwise been known for his more muffled, lo-fi recordings before then.
The deep cuts hit with the same immediacy as those early singles. “See You Fall” builds off a riff similar to Velvet Underground’s “Heroin”, and works-in a sneakily enticing chorus. “Childhood Faith In Love (Everything Must Change, Everything Must Stay the Same)” features a monster of a chorus, finding Krell reaching for the nose-bleed section, and successfully grabbing a hold of all who come in contact with these recordings. The album ends with Krell serenading his audience by singing “this world is such a pretty thing,” and for all the words he can’t remember, all the pleasure he’s trying to repossess, he sounds truly at peace. Because for all the destruction and turmoil we face in our lifetimes, this heart still beats. It’s such a resilient thing.