Critical Voices: How to Dress Well, Total Loss

October 4, 2012

Nick Krell, under the moniker How to Dress Well, is at his best when his music feels personal and heartfelt. And on his sophomore release, Total Loss, Krell is undoubtedly at his best.

Opening the album proclaiming, “You were there for me when I was in trouble, you could understand for me that life was a struggle,” Krell uses Total Loss as his confessional to the listener. The lyrics are rife with pain—he concludes “Cold Nites”:  “I pray for myself again.”

Pain and loss act as two major themes of the album. In some ways the lyrics serve as an elegy to those he lost, including friends and family. Before coming to the final stage of acceptance in the last song, “Ocean Floor for Everything,” Krell grapples with happiness lost, bemoaning that, “you loved me like no other did.”

The delivery of these pain-ridden lyrics is flawless. At times ascending into dizzying falsettos and then mellowing back to a hushed whisper, Krell voices the beautiful lyrics with the power and respect they deserve. Other times, the lyrics almost fade completely into the accompanying rhythm and melody only to subtly reemerge from the walls of synth into the foreground. Only in these moments do we truly gain an appreciation of Krell’s mastery over his craft.

How to Dress Well’s sound has always been best described as airy and ethereal, but several of the album’s compositions also consist of snippets of samples and Krell’s keyboard. The combination of the two sounds creates a unique ineffable feeling of familiarity with the song while simultaneously being unlike anything you’ve heard before. For example, the subtle R&B influences are obvious, but it’s impossible to pinpoint a single moment in the album that is undeniably R&B.

Krell employs cymbals and bells on a few of the tracks, too, often serving to highlight his falsettos and create an even more euphonic experience. The cymbals are the tip of the multilayered iceberg. All the songs have subtle layer on top of layer, each exposing sometimes completely disparate influences, and hints of classical layered under loops of Krell’s voice are true ear candy. This collection of beautiful lyrics and carefully shaped songs make listening to Total Loss a total gain.

Voice’s Choices: “Cold Nites,” “Struggle”

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