How To Dress Well – aka 31-year-old Tom Krell – is the perfect example of the modern-day musician. He was discovered online in 2009 after he started uploading demos on to his own blog. It’s a similar start-up story to Frankie Cosmos and Car Seat Headrest - two other musicians who have released standout albums this year - but what separates Krell is the music itself; Cosmos and Headrest are two very guitar-orientated bands, but How to Dress Well churns out infectious millennial R&B.
What started off as a lo-fi bedroom project has since expanded into a distinctive and accomplished demonstration of Krell’s talent and diverse taste. He has to battle the ‘plastic soul’ label a lot, which is fair enough – after all, in an abstract way, he's pretty much the Tinder generation’s closest answer to Bowie’s Young Americans phase – but he’s now perfected a sound which he can call his own. His three studio albums preceding his new album, Care, were brilliant in their own right, but they feel like they were just laying the ground that Care now dances on.
Sure, 2014’s What is this Heart? had its moments of genius – it’s a shame that “Repeat Pleasure” isn’t on this album, because it’s easily his best song to date – but Care just feels like his most coherent album from start to finish. It’s strange, because the nucleus that makes How To Dress Well’s sound – Krell’s falsetto – makes him seem so innocent, but he’s actually pretty goddamn randy here. The album opens on “Can’t You Tell” with the redraw lyrics “wanna lay down and take you right there”, and later on, during “The Ruins”, Krell is panting lustfully about his lover over a throbbing, intense beat – it’s like all of a sudden he’s a less predatory version of The Weeknd.
Still, “Can’t You Tell” is actually one of the album’s finest moments, alongside “What’s Up” and “Lost You / Lost Youth”. They’re all among the finest tracks of Krell’s career, but the immediate standout is “Lost You / Youth” – it’s upbeat, yet riddled with doubt and indecision: “I think I know what love is now, I think I kinda it figured out / But the second that I open my mouth, I’m gunna change my heart again.” It’s a very modern feeling, as if he almost has too many romantic options available, and, as a result, doesn't know what’s real and what isn’t.
In addition to his very modern way of breaking into the industry, Krell also has a very modern mindset that courses through his music. The biggest example of this is “Anxious” – it’s just as addictive as everything else on the album, but it feels like the most lighthearted and reflective track. It’s packed with some of the albums most memberable lyrics in “why am I so pathetic?” and, brilliantly, “why am I addicted to such attention, when all I want is love and affection? / Had a nightmare about my Twitter mentions.” But, it’s also actually quite a relatabe track – it’s the same sort of social media dependency that's at the heart of so many young people's self-induced insecurities, as they give themselves unrealistic expectations based on other people’s polished social media accounts.
At times, Krell’s poignant poses in photos and his polished-pop shtick could easily leave him at risk of being seen as some sort of bait Tumblr luminary, but he somehow always manages to avoid that trap. In most cases, singing love songs in a falsetto is incredibly passé, but with Care – and all of Krell’s work – it just feels right. It’s like his music possesses a modern sense of self-awareness that prevents him from taking himself too seriously; sure, he'll sing about his broken heart, but he’ll have a poke at himself while he’s doing it.
How to Dress Well started a successful career as a musician without even leaving his bedroom – it's weird to think that some of your favourite songs could literally have been made by someone who was laying in bed eating a bag of Doritos at the same time. Care is as close to a perfect example of modern music as you're likely to find – it’s self-reliant, self-assured and packed with more hooks than a cloakroom. If anything, Care is further proof that style’s one of those things that just can’t be taught.