Tom Krell, a.k.a How To Dress Well, is known for his spectral electro-R&B, in particular from his 2012 album ‘Total Loss’. So when his third album, ‘What Is This Heart?’, begins with an acoustic track it comes as a shock to the system.
It’s not exemplary of the rest of the album, however. ‘What Is This Heart?’ is not a move away from his original sound; instead it’s an update with more contemporary influences like James Blake and Blood Orange, combining cold sparse production with warmth of heart. If anything the album is a move further into minimalism. For the most part it feels like a collection of experiments, full of disparate musical elements – subtle beats, ominous sub-bass and Krell’s soft falsetto. Where ‘Total Loss’ felt delicate and ethereal, this new work feels at times a little too sparse and self-indulgent. And whilst the R&B melodies that underpinned his past material are as present as ever, here Krell is generally more concerned with ambience than hooks.
There are times, however, when it all comes together gorgeously. Words I Don’t Remember slowly crescendos with warm blooming synths, gentle percussion, noodling guitars and clipped vocals – the effect is a lush, sumptuous slow-burn. Precious Love is a stunning electro-ballad, with crystalline synths, a heavily reverbed hand clap pulse and downbeat falsetto melodies – it’s a shame that it ends just when the key change takes flight. Very Best Friend pushes the boundaries of Krell’s sound towards a dance idiom with its deep house inspiration – expect to hear plenty of remixes of this one.
Elsewhere, the album is littered with moments of beauty but they’re too few and far between to make an impact. ‘What Is This Heart?’ is ultimately a frustrating listen, a handful of glorious tracks showing his true potential amongst others that lack substance. More of the former please.
* Words I Don’t Remember
* Precious Love
* Very Best Friend
Listen: ‘What Is This Heart?’ is available now.