After The Weeknd’s triumvirate of great records, introspection, ghostly falsetto and Class As are once more back on the menu for RnB. A development which plays right into the hands of Brooklyn via Cologne philosophy graduate, Thomas Krell aka How To Dress Well.
As the curtain rises on opener ‘When I was in Trouble’ a distant train can be heard passing through a station but the gentle clip of wheels on the track seems far away, as though you’re walking a dark street and feeling the vibrations beneath your feet. It hardly counts as the calm before the storm, when so much of this follow-up to the acclaimed ‘Love Remains’ is hushed and downbeat but it serves to usher in a record which like The XX is all about the subtle shifts in mood.
Throughout ‘Total Loss’ there’s a tremendous sense of the space between notes; like snatches of melody fleetingly glimpsed from a moving vehicle. Krell’s Prince-ly falsetto is impressive but never showy, merging seamlessly with the sleek electro-soul arrangements. Track five ‘& It Was U’ also adopts Prince’s penchant for dropping letters but more than makes up for its incorrect orthography with cleverly layered vocals and heavy bass drum while ‘Cold Nites’ piano and clicking rhythm track recall the XX as Krell wraps his vocal chords round a vaporous melody.
At the centre of the record the otherworldly instrumental ‘World I Need You, Won’t Be Without You (Proem)’ could easily pass for Sigur Ros, with gorgeous visions thrown up like puffs of snow by little more than strings and a few touches of percussion. You don’t get this with a Chris Brown album.
For a record inspired by the death of one of Krell’s best friends often there is little in the way of concrete imagery, instead relying on icy string samples and echoing drum machines to cover the gaps between his haunting vocals. One of the weaknesses of ‘Total Loss’ is that if don’t you approach it in the right mood, the down-tempo sonics coupled to helium vocals can be difficult to embrace but persevere and you’ll be treated to an album which turns the pains of depression and loss into a creative triumph.
Overall ‘Total Loss’ is a haunting and intelligent album that will play well with a particular type of intellectual pop fan even if it won’t quite knock Frank Ocean off his throne this year.