Available on: Tri Angle re-issue; originally Lefse, 2010
How To Dress Well, aka Tom Krell, makes the aural equivalent of scratched negative prints – spectral and dreamy melodies submerged under blankets of fuzz. Sounds familiar, right? Post-Ariel Pink, there’s a ton of stuff out there that could fit that description. To be frank, I’m running out of new ways to talk about this stuff, but no matter – you know what I mean, and also whether you still have any time for it.
If you do have room for one more bit of hazy codeine-pop in your life, then Love Remains is a pretty stunning, indeed almost perfect, addition to the canon. On this re-recorded collection of previous EP releases, Krell sings r’n’b melodies in a high and haunting falsetto over crackling embers of g-funk synths and dubby clunks. The transmutation of ’90s and ’00s r’n’b influences into breathy, devotional torch songs is lovely, but – again – there’s a lot of it going on. In their different ways, the xx, James Blake, and Forest Swords are all in similar-ish territory. But perhaps that’s just because it’s such a great, fertile stock of pop-memories to work from, an explosion of hyperactive creativity that we’re only just now getting to grips with. Certainly, it sounds like Love Remains was made with an obsessive love for r’n’b. The melodies are so perfectly right, so instantly memorable, that it’s often hard to believe that these are original compositions, rather than covers of half-remembered chart hits.
However, Krell cuts his songs loose from any of the jittery rhythmic inventions of golden-age r’n’b, which were always at least half the story. This sets up an intriguing and powerful tension at the record’s heart. Tunes such as ‘Suicide Dream 2’ take over any room they’re played in, as the melodrama of the vocals is somehow only enhanced by the cobweb-fragility of instrumentation underneath. Krell’s complete conviction – you’re never left in any doubt that he really, really means it – gives the record its taut emotional pulse. Despite sounding so washed-out, Love Remains never drifts. Because, for all the cloudiness of the production, this record is above all about song-craft, and having the confidence to present monumental tunes almost unadorned. On ‘Ready For the World’ – which Lil B used as the backdrop to ‘Why They Wanna Kill Me’ – Krell lets his couple of melodies just revolve in space, returning to the same ideas over and over. It’s such a gracefully simple and beautiful technique.
For all the on-trend reference points, Love Remains most reminds me of cLOUDDEAD (remember them?). There’s the same weirdly addictive feeling of being in a limbo state somewhere between bliss and loss. cLOUDDEAD are horribly unfashionable nowadays of course, but you know what? They were fucking brilliant. Just like How to Dress Well.