Over the last year, a series of home-recorded EPs were self-released for free under the name How To Dress Well. Soon thereafter, it was revealed that How To Dress Well is philosophy student Tom Krell, who has since collected the best of the EPs, reworked them, and is now releasing them on his debut full-length, Love Remains. For such a simple, solitary project, How To Dress Well is garnering a lot of attention for his reverb-heavy, almost weightless reinterpretations of ‘80s and ‘90s R&B. While the music inarguably drifts in the most deliberately ethereal way possible, Krell (and, to some degree, those who have reviewed it) have assigned a great deal of conceptual import to the project.
The thematic premise of Love Remains appears to have a lot to do with the way music dissolves in our memories, hence Krell’s mostly dissipated re-imaginings of slow jams. It’s a subject matter rife with possibilities, and Krell explores a great deal of them. Mortality, the tangible versus the intangible, and bodily decay, among other ideas, all get, at least, a glancing examination. More accurately, Krell simply suggests a lot of them sonically, or uses his song titles (“My Body”, “Can’t See My Own Face”, “Suicide Dream 1”) to connect the sonics to what he may or may not be singing about. Truthfully, it’s really hard to tell what he’s singing about, given the oceans of reverb keeping his constant falsetto at a wide remove. But Krell’s admitted as much in interviews, and the song’s are ghostly enough to convey an isolated mood even if you can’t make heads or tails of the vocals. Plus, like I said, he’s a philosophy student. These concepts are a philosophy student’s bread and butter.
So yeah, Love Remains is pretty theoretically heady, but really, it would have to be, because the music is doing very little of the heavy lifting. Track after track features little more than Krell’s echoey cooing supplemented with more tracks of his echoey cooing and the occasional piano and/or R&B beat. There are fleeting moments of activity that jump out and get the listener’s attention, such as the silky groove of “Endless Rain”, but these moments are attention-grabbers by default. Once you get the general idea of Love Remains, you can pretty much tune out and not miss much.
Still, How To Dress Well’s loose compositions are invariably pretty. Even if you take issue with ‘80s and ‘90s R&B, the genre mostly serves as a distant vehicle for some dizzying abstractions. When you stop searching for meaning or waiting for memorable songs to emerge out of the ambient haze, you can appreciate Love Remains for what it is: thoughtful mood music.