How To Dress Well‘s Tom Krell might just be the creepiest-looking Jewish(ish) dude in R&B. A svelte Tom Green who’s grown a heart, Krell gorgeously transitions between two microphones from powerful whispers to synthesized falsetto… as he runs his hands through his impressive hair-do and vaguely porn-y goatee.
Dubious facial hair choices aside, How To Dress Well put on a captivating performance last night at The Roxy in Los Angeles. Despite a really just terribly douchey audience (shameful heckle of the night: “shut up and play music!”), Krell let the crowd in on some of his darkest, most conflicted, and most jubilant emotions as he debuted mostly new songs from a très mysterious upcoming album, as well as some older favorites like the “really creepy vibes, man” Cold Nites. Throughout the show he communicated with the audience and the crew to produce the best experience possible for all involved, in order to create an intimate environment in which he could share his new work.
How To Dress Well’s music is extremely soulful and more than a little ominous in sound. Listeners get the feeling that they’re staring down the endless manhole of this guy’s beating heart with his vocal range and intractable melodies. A highlight of the night was the beats of the Broken Social Scene drummer, who gave Krell’s tunes a harder and rockier edge. He also branched out on a new pop track (“this one’s gonna be a #1 hit, right guys?!,” he jokingly pleaded), as well as a refreshingly optimistic track called Childhood Faith and Love inspired by the 2000s favorite band The Starting Line. Overall, How To Dress Well is a great performer that bares it all to those lucky enough to hear him in his element.
I fell under his spell for most of the night; here is this guy who knows how to feel, and knows how to communicate those feelings, just what I want in my synthR&B! And while sometimes I was moved by feelings like loss as he mourned the passing of a friend in a vague but tragic ballad, my feelings for this guy started to change as he sang about his relationships and the “desires I can’t control.”
In one introduction to a song, he said that it was about how “I want to have a baby like…” *insert half smile and shrug here* “in the next part of my life.” So conflicted and entitled! As if he was saying, I want to love but I have all these feelings aaand I’m not really gonna work to be better so I might as well just sing about it. This “take me as I am” attitude was compounded in a really gorgeous and moving new song, What I Wanted, in which he sang about that interminable issue of maleness (ok, really person-ness): commitment and the wandering eye.
“I don’t even know what’s best for me,” he sang, seemingly rehashing old battles in his mind about wanting to be in a loving relationship but also just not quite getting there. This song’s “uncontrollable desires” theme of soul-baring lasted throughout the night, to the point where I felt like How To Dress Well was articulating what every emotionally conflicted person wishes he or she could say, in lieu of actually acting and making a choice between singledom and commitment. Which is, to be fair, a hard choice… and a big choice.
Perhaps I came at this performance with an unfair eye. I am going through “my own shit” right now…. but aren’t we all? I think music is, especially in terms of relationships, a valuable lens through which to examine our feelings (feel our feels, perhaps?) and gain clarity on those feelings. But How To Dress Well’s disconnect between the examining of feelings, and the gaining of clarity (or lack thereof?), and then the subsequent lack of action re: ostensibly newly acquired clarity, left a sour taste in my mouth. Tom Krell is an amazing musical auteur, a captivating performer, and a straight up charmer… but as I wish he would just Do Better, it occurs to me that maybe How To Dress Well really is emotional music for the boys. bRo&B? Ok, we’ll work on that.