How to Dress Well – What Is This Heart? (2014)

Tom Krell’s sophomore release, titled What is This Heart, is a colossal fusion of r/n/b and pop dreamscape rhythm. The opening title, 2 Years On (What A Dream), could be a reference to the two year release since his previous album Total Loss (2012).  What You Wanted is the first track that opens the album’s heart out, addressing the theme of the album: modern love, and introduces its listeners to very smooth and clear-cut beats.

In a Pitchfork interview, Krell discusses his interest with the topic of nihilism, a topic which he is also writing a dissertation on for his Ph. D in Philosophy. The cross-examination of the music and nihilism in How To Dress Well is exemplary, but the songs seem to address only relationships and space between lovers. But his music and the lyrics appear as contrary to each other – the music is experimental and chambray, dips its toes into r/n/b with his style of singing, yet the lyrics focus solely on  emotional content. No discussion of an existentialism crisis, no nihilistic existence in What Is This Heart?

Lyrically, the album has many sweet whisperings but it doesn’t hold up to the strength demonstrated in the debut Total Loss. The 2012 album was notably sorrowful, gentle and melancholic. TL’s Talking To You and Ocean Floor For Everything sit more comfortably with expressing vulnerability, but it’s also because the songs themselves are sit more comfortably in the electronic genre, so as to convey a dreamscape, convey a love in a distance, contained in a space reserved for lovers.

The only track on WITH which rivals Total Loss with the strength of the lyric is House Inside (Future Is Only Than The Past), with gems like “No merry baby, always crying, No open, the sea out on the water” and “I’m not asking you to wait for tomorrow / Deep in your chest, stay sequestered and somber.” And  even the opener 2 Years On, with “The windows down, the wind on my skin / My brother’s in pair with this wind and / The day I knew pride was cut with shame” carries with it a heartwarmingly frank account of a dream he had about his family. In contrast, lyrics like “Want you to have my baby, please don’t be appalled” (Very Best Friend) are almost cringe-worthy, as though you’re eavesdropping on a couple’s stupidly sentimental conversation.

Songs which lack the romantic theme give the album more gravity. For example, the album’s first single, Repeat Pleasure has some of the strongest lyrics of the whole album:

You shouted: ”I told you!”
And I saw the sun reflected in your eyes
The whole world in a dark hue
Repeated without grace, a broken light

Repeat Pleasure is the first part of the ‘What Is This Heart” trilogy (the second part is “Face Again” and thirdly “Childhood Faith in Love”).

The real success of this track lies in its excellent lyrical sentimentality while maintaining its potential as a club banger. It ends, “Pleasure repeats on and on: Even broken my heart will go on!” Throughout the album, you notice how the music is atmospheric, but shares the stage equally with the vocals.

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