BlackBook Tracks #17: A Chill In The Air

It’s cold, y’all. I cannot even deal with this right now. New season, new moods.

How To Dress Well – “& It Was U”

Tom Krell’s vision of stripped-down R&B is warm and cold at the same time. “& It Was U” has a purity to it that’s totally unforgettable.

Dirty Projectors – “About To Die”

Dirty Projectors’ Swing Lo Magellan has received plenty of praise, and for good reason. “About To Die” shifts and twists, delicately revolving around now-trademark female vocal harmonies.

Taken By Trees – “I Want You”

Swedish artist Victoria Bergsman takes wistful sentiment and pushes it into a surprisingly weird place. Her recently released album Other Worlds sees her paying tribute to the sounds of Hawaii unlike you’ve ever heard before.

Interpol – “Next Exit”

Whenever New York starts to feel dreary, it’s time to break out the Interpol.

Dead Man’s Bones – “Pa Pa Power”

Will Ryan Gosling ever rescue me from the hazards of my own life? Will he ever record another album with Dead Man’s Bones? His meme-worthiness may have declined lately, but let’s hope the answer to both is “yes.”

Feist – “Sealion” (Chromeo remix)

Back in the day, Feist’s tribute to the selkie myth received this funked-up remix from fellow Canadians Chromeo.

Diamond Rings – “I’m Just Me” (Yelle DJs remix)

The dancefloor becomes a dark place when French favorites Yelle take on this frank synth-pop anthem.

Foals – “Black Gold”

This seems like a good time to revisit all the feelings evoked by Foals’ 2010 album Total Life Forever. Haunting, gorgeous, and tightly held together.

Nico – “These Days”

In case you’ve been thinking about The Royal Tenenbaums recently.

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How To Dress Well Makes Thought-Provoking R&B That Stands On Its Own

Tom Krell is a Colorado-born singer and producer whose haunting vocals, emotionally driven lyrics, and experimental beats can only heard when channeled through his R&B-loving alter-ego, How To Dress Well. He’s an artist who is very concerned about how his music is perceived, and his eagerness for a seal of approval comes across in every track as he pours his heart and soul into every note in the process. We caught up with him to discuss his new album, Total Loss, being compared to Jamie Woon and James Blake, and where he stands in the R&B world.

How To Dress Well—interesting name you’ve got there. How did you come up with it?
When I first starting recording music, I was filing it away in my laptop at a friend’s house. iTunes asked for a name, and there, on the coffee table, were two old books my friend had copped from the bookstore below our flat: How To Photograph Women Beautifully and How To Dress Well. I just picked one, and, since then, everything I’ve recorded has been filed under that name. I can see how some people would find it off-putting or arrogant, but it’s definitely not intended to be. It’s really just a random name.

Random, but cool! As a youngster growing up, which musicians did you draw influence from as you were finding your musical feet?
Like, as a kid, kid? I’d say Michael Jackson, Tevin Campbell, and so on. But then it’s like Brian Eno, Grouper, Feist, Kate Bush, Babyface, Mount Eerie, Nine Inch Nails, Antony, The KLF… Yeah, I’ve been into a lot of different shit.

And you would describe your music how?
Regardless of what genre it’s closest to, I consider HTDW spiritually experimental music. The voice and harmonies are the foundation.

You’ve been compared to the likes of U.K. crooners Jamie Woon and James Blake. What are your honest thoughts on that?
Some comparisons are a bit knee-jerk. I mean, most of them I can certainly understand. However, I do find my music to be more in the plane of Maxwell, Tracy Chapman, Grouper, and Kate Bush, rather than Woon or Blake.

Thanks for clearing that one up! It seems many artists today are almost afraid to put themselves under the R&B bracket, but you don’t seem to mind. What do you think you bring to the genre that is, perhaps, currently missing?
Well, I’m not too quick to place myself under that bracket, either, but I do love a very wide range of R&B artists. And, to that genre, I hope I can bring something thought provoking and heartfelt. I do think that pop-R&B often misses those elements. 

Although you released music before 2010’s Love Remains album, that particular LP got the music world talking a lot. What was it about Love Remains that you think people connected with so much?
I’m glad that a lot of people connected with it. It’s an album about melancholy, and the goal was to portray melancholy, not simply by singing about it, but actually trying to present the affective terrain of melancholy sonically. I think people heard, understood, and felt that intention.

Tell me about your latest project, Total Loss. What was the thought process behind this album?
It’s an album about mourning: mourning the loss of loved ones, love, faith, desire, and hope. And when I say mourning, I mean coming to grips with loss, not getting over it—as I do feel like that’s an impossible task, particularly with death—but learning to live with and grow from it.

Very deep. All right, honestly, do you feel that the mainstream’s ready for what you’re about? 
Man, I really don’t know. I mean, I hope so! I genuinely do. I would love for more people to listen to and find solace in Total Loss.

On a totally different note, who are you listening to right now? Anyone out there who you could see yourself working with down the line?
Right now, as we’re speaking, I’m listening to And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead [laughs]. I was listening to Jeremih before that. Collabs are super exciting, and I hope I get to do some sick ones, but I’m more looking to work with artists, filmmakers, etc.

You’re already off to a great start, but what are your hopes for the future?
I hope these upcoming tours go well, and that people can take something special away from the shows. I want to record, record, record! I’m constantly writing new music. I also hope that I can live fully and love, be in love, and be loved for the rest of my life.

Follow Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson on Twitter.

New Arbitrary Music Genre Alert: Stalkerwave

I’ve been listening to “Cold Nites,” a track from solo producer How To Dress Well’s forthcoming Total Loss LP, out on September 18 in North America, and it’s a real skin-crawler.

HTDW’s whole airily overcompressed R&B in a moldy basement aesthetic has long been considered a skeevy extension of 2010’s chillwave boom (man, remember how chill we were in 2010?), but here he’s hit on an even creepier vibe. It’s what a peeping tom might hear when he pushes aside a tree branch and gets a good look at you in your birthday suit. Ergo, stalkerwave.

This would be the natural evolution of pop and rock’s tendency to staple heart to sleeve, declaring love or loathing or some violent confusion of the two in sharp, catchy terms. Here in a future where we can lazily track the objects of our lust online, the lyrics and metaphors are murky if not terrifying. The punks and Eminem promised repulsive sexual acts, but that’s arch satire next to something like The-Dream’s “Abyss,” which blends desire and death into smooth seduction:

I won’t stop listening to these dudes, but were I a lady, I’d carefully weigh the pros and cons of giving either your number.