How To Dress Well - Total Loss | Album Review | By Volume

Understand that I am only as he made me: a faithful servant to all of the noise, all of the lights, all of the flashing in my head. Laura Stevenson - Wheel

How To Dress Well

Total Loss

An elusive, emotional and complex masterpiece.

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Author: on September 20, 2012
September 10, 2012

In 2010, How To Dress Well’s Love Remains crackled, undefined and enticing, somewhere out on the edges of the collective consciousness. The elusive sound and atmosphere that it offered up had an unusual effect; it pulled people in, intrigued by the ambient fluidity, and then gave them very little to cling onto when they arrived. The result was a record which, in what then was an R&B undertone, escaped genre and settled in its own space. Those eerie drapes of melody, drifting back and forth, were in hindsight the characteristics of one of the freshest and most modern sounds we’ve heard in years – modern in the sense that it felt hollow, desperate and yearning, digitally barren in its static. Love Remains‘ successor Total Loss further evidences How To Dress Well’s intriguing talent for crafting immersive worlds of looped swirls, an absolutely gorgeous/terrifying storm of lo-fi beauty.

On this second record, the aesthetic is somewhat easier to place into words, still ebbing and buzzing and flowing but toeing a line, probably, just the R&B side of Bon Iver’s self-titled sophomore album. That R&B influence floats to the front of Total Loss‘ field of vision in such a way as to accentuate the rawness of what was already a dangerously vulnerable soundscape, the domain of mournful strings, keys and ambiance. Tom Krell’s vocals are not done justice by the bandied-about term ‘soulful’, possessing a degree of depth on “Say My Name or Say Whatever” that betrays the fact he is far more. The reverbed falsetto is its own instrument, but it doesn’t work alone; Krell forms a vortex around the song which mesmerizes as much as it numbs. And the rest of Total Loss finds that same hypnotic sweet spot, some kind of forlorn trance which wanders seamless between vacuums and overwhelming emotion.

Special mention must be made of penultimate track “Set It Right”. Where most of its colleagues evade and dissolve inside themselves – even “& It Was U”, rhythmically hard-line by comparison – “Set It Right” takes it upon itself to partially resolve the questions that Total Loss raises. Its fullness is a masterstroke on the part of Krell, blowing away the ethereal whispers of songs like “Struggle” in a bold and captivating fashion. It completely seals How To Dress Well as a frankly awesome artist, wherein “awesome” takes its precise definition: awe-inspiring, breathtaking. Total Loss is an absolute maze of a record, a complex blend of the distant and close-at-heart, and 2012’s defining record thus far.

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