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  • Filed under: Review
  • 09/17/2012

How to Dress Well Total Loss

Love Remains, How to Dress Well's hauntingly beautiful 2010 debut, dealt with the excruciating pain of navigating a seemingly endless depression, but Tom Krell's second LP, Total Loss, explores his personal journey through the hell that is clinical depression—his friend and his uncle recently passed away, and his long-distance relationship fell apart—and his ultimate triumph over years of intense emotional suffering. A quick glance at the tracklist instantly reveals what the listener is in for; with titles like "Cold Nites," "Struggle," "World I Need You, Won't Be Without You," it's immediately apparent that Total Loss is an incredibly dark album, with each song serving as a meditation on a different facet of the mourning process.

At first, it seems like Total Loss continues where Love Remains left off; opener "When I Was in Trouble" starts off with sampled sounds of pouring rain, hazy and muddied with distortion. But soon, the fog lifts to place Krell's gorgeous falsetto front and center, strong and confident, with greater clarity than ever before. "Dear mama, didn't you try to tell me that everything was gonna be safe?/Dear mama, didn't you tell me tell me everything was gonna be right?" Krell sings with breathtaking sincerity over the storm quietly brewing. This shifting dynamic—arresting vocals at the forefront, minimalistic beats and mysterious clicks and whistles pushed into the background—gives the album its emotional core, with Krell's fight to stay above water on full display in his fragile voice.

"I love to fly," says a despondent kid in the Streetwise sample that kicks off "Say My Name." "It's just, you're alone. You have peace and quiet, nothing around you but clear blue skies. No one to hassle you. No one to tell you where to go or what to do. The only bad thing about flying is having to come back down to the fucking world." It's a bleak start, but Krell moves into slightly brighter territory, perhaps attempting to ease the seemingly relentless pain with delicate horn and string arrangements and more upbeat tempos. Krell's penchant for old-school R&B ballads breaks through on the midsection of the album; "Running Back" and "And It Was U" (in which Krell sings a ghostly duet with himself) are lighter and more romantic than the rest of Total Loss, signifying his realization of the healing power of love in times of darkness while showing off his vocal talents.

By the end of the album, Krell starts to see a light at the end of the tunnel, a hint of relief after ages of anguish. After eulogizing his lost loved ones on the epic "Set It Right"—Eileen, Dan Dan, Aunt Sam, Jamie, Mama, Dad, Andrew, Dawn, Grandma, Francie, Danny, Aunt Faith, Will, Jamie—he can finally let go and begin to breathe again. "I have my place, I have my home, I have my future," he sings on closer "Ocean Floor For Everything." He continues, "We never really plan for the worst of things, do we?"

Total Loss is an overwhelming album given the rollercoaster of emotions Krell goes through over the course of its 11 tracks. If you're not in the right mood, it might be tough to listen to forty-plus minutes of melancholy soundscapes evoking misery, despair, and loneliness—pretty much every awful feeling associated with profound loss. But those who can relate, even the slightest, to what Krell was going through when he made the record will likely find some comfort in the product of his suffering.

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