Ten Songs That Influenced How To Dress Well's New Album, "Total Loss"

Ten Songs That Influenced How To Dress Well's New Album, "Total Loss"
Tom Krell of How To Dress Well
(Courtesy Jesse Lirola)

Etheareal R&B singer/producer How To Dress Well, a.k.a. Tom Krell, burst onto the indie music scene back in 2009 after posting a series of EPs to his blog. The best songs from these releases made their way onto his debut album, “Love Remains,” a blown out, woozy yet emotionally searing look at love and how torturous it can be. Two years later, Krell's sophomore release, “Total Loss,” comes out today (on Acéphale). A chronicle of mourning, the record sees Krell treading familiar emotional territory, but in its fearless openness, the LP also demonstrates how his feelings have evolved. “This is what I learned about myself while making the album," he told ARTINFO over the phone. “All of these ideas, they all came through the process, the ideas are a nice bonus at the end for myself. Or what I've learned about what I think life should be. I don't approach music with a theory or thesis. It comes from the total presence of my heart, what I'm living at that exact second.” The singer also talked about the music that impacted this album. Over email, Krell provided a list of 10 songs that influenced "Total Loss," along with personal commentary about each track (emoticons and all):

1. Grouper, “Heavy Water/ I'd Rather Be Sleeping”


“Co-headlining a show in Portland with Liz [Harris] a.k.a. Grouper last spring was a massive moment for me. First off, I'm a total Grouper fanboy. And live she had such control and created this incredible affective ambience with tape loops and a simple, sweet voice. This experience produced such a strong feeling in me — I had an intense moment during her set where I actually forgave someone very, very important in my life, whose mental illness had been causing me intense depression, and felt a profound weight lifted.”



2. Janet Jackson, “Special”

“This song is undeniably, unavoidably honest. It's so true. Her voice sounds so angelic. And when she sings 'it hasn't been easy, no not for me' I really feel her. This kind of song, at the interstice of sentimentality and seriousness of the highest order, really shaped my life over the last few years. Plus, this whole song is about mourning — surviving loss while sustaining a creatively energizing relationship with it — is the basic thematic of 'Total Loss.' In the interlude to this song, she says:

You see
You can't run away from your pain
Because wherever you run
There you will be

You have to learn
To water your spiritual garden
You will be free

“That's “Total Loss” for me, finding that freedom, watering my spiritual garden :+)”



3. Alicia Keys, “It Doesn't Mean Anything”

“My friend Simon played me this song and I love him, so this song is imbued with his energy for me. It's a song about a total commitment to love, at the expense of everything else — this is an unhealthy way to think about love, one that brings intense joy at some moments and equally intense obsession and frustration at others. This feeling was in me a lot last year.”



4. Chris Brown, “No Bullshit”

“OK, so, for the record: fuck Chris Brown, he's a coward. This is a great song he probably didn't write and definitely didn't produce. I love the piano sound, I love the drum sound — I think I almost listen to this song like it's an instrumental, hearing his voice, the chorus of voices in the chorus, the strings at the end, etc. I have to admit, though: I listened to this song A LOT last year — like my itunes says 71 plays and that's not even counting like my plays on my walkman and stuff.”



5. Johann Johannson, “Part 5 - The Sun's Gone Dim And The Sky's Turned Black”

“Such an insanely elegant combination of electronic elements and strings. And the human voices (electronic and organic) work together in a shockingly affecting way. This song is so powerful and beautiful. I want to make music that sounds like this.”



6. Babyface, “When Can I See You Again”

“One of my favorite songs since I was a little boy — this song really hit me last year during a phase in a relationship. 'I hear what you're saying, but I swear that it's not making sense — so when can I see you again?': this is a crazy, crazy thing to say to someone leaving you, so full of denial and desperation. Shout out to Babyface, one of the all time greats.”



7. Mount Eerie, “With My Hands Out”

“This song is everything. This song is so beautiful. I think of Phil Elvrum as a real hero — his career is so dynamic and his vision has only become clearer, more intense. I want my career to be like his!”



8. Coco Rosie, “Werewolf”

“Lyrically, this is my favorite song in years (other than all Elite Gymnastics' songs — their lyrics are truly the best). The chorus feels so emphatic and committed: it's an incredibly brave proclamation. And the arrangement definitely sounds, to me, like something that would make sense on 'Total Loss.' ”



9. Kate Bush, “Watching You Without Me”

“The production on this song is so sick. So subtle, so engaging, but still just a pop song. With a crazy climax of reversed vocals. Perfect.”



10. Janet Jackson, “Together Again”

“Right before this song, Janet says on an interlude: 'You don't have to hold on to the pain, to hold on to the memory.' This is the whole vibe of my entire record. Plus, this is a wistful, even joyful song about a friend she lost to AIDS: Her ability to write and record such a joyous song through that experience is an absolutely moving example of what I mean by mourning and why I say 'Total Loss' is a record about mourning.”