Scratched Into Our Souls

How To Dress Well – ‘Love Remains’ | September 16, 2010

The falsetto is not to be trifled with. For centuries, the falsetto has been a sign of power and the desired vocal affect of countless male singers. Of course, it wasn’t until the 20th century that falsettos began to be seen as a sign of vulnerability, emotion, and even fragility. Thankfully, for every effeminate Chris Brown or Chris Martin knock-off polluting the airwaves with cheesy sentimentality we have artists who are willing to use the falsetto in interesting, powerful ways. Some artists even pull it off so well that they create a name for their own aesthetic brand: one of the leading cliches used in journalism to describe a powerful falsetto is “Prince-like.” It’s been too long that the falsetto hasn’t been seen as the desired style of high-art male vocals.

One of the most engaging and interesting albums of recent memory is Love Remains by How To Dress Well. If you forgot that the falsetto could be as emotionally poignant as Kurt Cobain’s screams, think again. One listen to Love Remains will you leave you emotionally floored and physically drained, for Tom Krell’s falsetto is one of the most affecting I’ve heard since the first time my ears graced Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago.

Besides the vocal similarities and the emotional range, similarities between the music of Tom Krell and Justin Vernon stop there. Where Bon Iver is a mostly acoustic project that is clearly the work of a singer-songwriter, giving off the warm vibes of hearing a man sing his sorrows to you on his acoustic guitar, How To Dress Well is a project that is harder to pin down. The melodic structure is influenced heavily by the hooks of r&b classics, and it’s not hard to imagine a hook as strong as the one on “Ready For The World” could dominate the airwaves.

Unfortunately, this is not traditional r&b music, so the universal appeal is lost when you look at the other aspects of the music. The recording of Love Remains is lo-fi to the extreme; when Krell hits his higher notes and uses more dynamic range, his recording equipment crackles and loses its clarity, making for a brilliant affect of music that is both fuzzy and strained. The music often veers on more experimental territory, to the extent that one of his “similar artists” on last.fm is the notable witch-house band oOoOO. 

One thing is certain: this record is an entrancing, entertaining, and authentically raw experience that shouldn’t be missed. The music won’t be for everybody, but I can guarantee that you haven’t heard very much music that sounds quite like this, and that in itself is an accomplishment. Of course, when the hooks are slick and the atmosphere is gorgeous, you’re going to catch some people’s attention. I expect great things in the future from How To Dress Well, and it’s not hard to hear some greatness in them now.

Listen: How To Dress Well – “Walking This Dumb”

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    About Me: Chris Robinson

    A budding writer and avid music fan from Los Angeles, California, I am a recent graduate of Music History from UCLA's Herb Alpert School of Music. I've written for the UCLA Daily Bruin, graduated valedictorian from high school, and enjoy many different types of music, from The Beatles to Beethoven, and everything in between. I wrote my senior thesis on lyrical misinterpretations in popular music, focusing on Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA."

    Add me on last.fm: http://www.last.fm/user/crob3888

    All music posted on this blog is for sampling purposes only. If you like what you hear, support the artists. Go out and buy their music, attend their shows, and buy merchandise.

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