For those of you who've been with me for the long haul you'll remember my interview with How To Dress Well's Tom Krell a few years back. Both Mademoiselle Robot and I are huge music fans but it rarely finds its way onto the blog. You might not know much about our musical tastes, that is unless any of you have been lucky enough to hear Laetitia DJ. How To Dress Well releases a new album on Monday June 23rd called "What Is This Heart?". Last week I had the pleasure of seeing them live at the ICA. I'd already heard a few tracks from the new album namely - Repeat Pleasure and Words I Don't Remember - and while I loved both these tracks it seemed there had been a sea change in Tom Krell's life. The maudlin and plaintive songs about loss and personal tragedy had been replaced with upbeat songs about falling in love - or so it seemed. I'd imagined that the emotional trajectory of new album would be akin to PJ Harvey's "Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea" when compared to it's predecessors "To Bring You My Love" and "Is This Desire?". PJ Harvey fell in love and the impact on her music was extraordinary. Personally I preferred Polly's output when she wasn't so happy and that's a shameful thing to admit because when you love an artist you don't wish them to be unhappy but the simple fact is that some artists make their best music during emotionally turbulent times. The set list at the gig was comprised almost entirely of new material and while the two tracks I'd already heard hinted at a seismic shift in tone the gig proved me wrong. The bleakness of the first two albums is still present; but only in glimpses. "What Is This Heart?" is a much more well-rounded affair, as the title suggests it appears that Krell is vocalising his own capability for experiencing both extremes of the emotional spectrum. While Krell's music has always felt deeply personal and autobiographical the new material seems to reflect a personal journey that doesn't dwell on the past as much as the last two albums have.
The R'n'B influences are still present but to discuss those belies the cultural depth of Krell's inspirations. Some of How To Dress Well's previous work (albums and DJ mixes) include everything from Mariah Carey tracks to dialogue from obscure Todd Haynes films (Safe, 1995), Ann Sexton documentaries and quotes from John Green books (The Fault In Our Stars, 2012). It's this breadth of cultural influence that demarcates Krell from any of his contemporaries. Although having said that, are there any comparable artists working in this genre and singing in Krell's trademark androgynous falsetto?
If you haven't seen How To Dress Well live I can't recommend it highly enough. All artists fall into one of two camps - better live than they are on record, and better on record than they are live. It's hard to image what How To Dress Well would sound like live as on record the music relies so heavily on reverb, looped vocals and other techniques which you might imagine difficult to create live. Krell uses two microphones to recreate his haunting vocals and where previous live shows where nothing more than one man and a laptop the ICA gig featured a full band. This is a testament to just how much more musical scope the new album has in comparison with the previous albums. Guitars, drums and violins obliterate the lo-fi sound that typified Krell's earlier sound and the music is much better off for it. Check out the video for Repeat Pleasure below and if you have the chance to see him live, grab it with both hands. You won't regret it. You can hear the new album and see tour dates here.
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