An Ocean Floor for Everything - How to Dress Well's Total Loss turns 10

Around ten years ago, I used to work in radio, and the very last song I played on the show I hosted was “Ocean Floor for Everything.”

It was a Friday afternoon, in December, maybe a week or two before Christmas, and I had spent the last two days of that week, with my final two hours of radio, playing what had been my favorite songs of that year.

And I have gone quite a while not really thinking much about my time spent in radio, or even really talking about it with anyone, but it is a part of my life—subjectively short-lived but formative never the less, that I do find myself ruminating on occasionally—with a wish, sometimes, however small or however fleeting, to still have this opportunity available as an outlet.

There is a part of me that thinks about this period—less than three years, but a little longer than two-and-a-half, and when I think about it, what I would like to believe that I was good at it. 

There is a part of me that wants to think about the kind of hour of radio I tried to cultivate, and believe it was “ahead of its time,” or at the very least, and to be slightly less self-aggrandizing, that it was interesting or even innovative at times to listen to.

I would like to think that the people who listened to the station, and heard my hour, from 3 until 4 p.m., almost every weekday afternoon, liked the songs they heard, and at least if they did not enjoy the songs they heard, that they could, or were willing, to appreciate what I had been trying to do. 

Other parts of me are completely unable to believe in any of that.

There are the parts of me that believe with all certainty that I was mediocre at best with how I used my time on the air, and that the kind of hour of radio I tried to cultivate was eclectic, yes, but also wildly frustrating to listen to in just how restless it could become even within just an hour.

That the selections of music I tried to push together made little, if any, sense when heard over the air. 

Or, that the hour of radio I had found myself with became entirely too personal of a reflection on what was happening in my life outside of the confines of the station. 

Because that was the problem, in the end. 

One of the problems. The most significant and perhaps most obvious problem. And it was the one that had the easiest solution. 

The longer I did this hour of radio—a show that I, at one time, was pouring all of my being into the preparation for—and the further into a year that I spent struggling with severe depression and anxiety, I found at year’s end, I was entirely too depressed to keep doing the show. 

And the easiest way to handle it, or at least what I believed to be the best way to handle it at the time, was to speak with the manager of the station, and after doing so, build around two week’s worth of playlists of all the songs that I wanted to share during my hour of air time before departing, and then simply walk away1.


And, of course, enough time has elapsed that I do not recall the circumstances that led me to discover the music Tom Krell began making under How to Dress Well.

And I do wonder how I learned about, or was introduced to music in the late 2000s, and into the early 2010s—a time when the internet perhaps moved a little slower than it does today, and a time when social media was not the tool it has become now as a means of promotion for an artist. 

It still exists in an extremely dusty corner of the internet since it has not been updated or maintained in any way for over a decade, but in 2009, Krell launched a Blogspot for the project, revealing little if any information about himself, and began to release digital EPs via the site—the How to Dress Well Wikipedia alleges he issued six different EPs over the course of six months before the eventual arrival of his full-length debut as How to Dress Well, Love Remains, in 2010.

A site like Twitter, which is now where I often hear about a lot of new music or artists to research, was still in its infancy in 2009 and 2010—and it was a social media outlet I went on to adopt at the tail end of 2011, so the possibility is quite high that I read about Krell’s early output as How to Dress Well through praise and publicity from a place like Pitchfork, or if it had been mentioned somewhere else like an internet forum I frequented for music suggestions and recommendations.

I don’t recall if Krell himself described his earliest material this way—in both the aesthetic it was produced within and its style or affect, or if I read it elsewhere, but I often think about this description, and how accurate it was—the sound of someone with an older sister, and hearing the sound of her playing early to mid-1990s R&B in her room, possibly upset after a breakup, either coming through the wall, or up through the floor—muffled, but not totally indecipherable. 

Just distant enough that you can’t make out all the details—your fingers just barely unable to grasp it completely.

And there was an often cacophonic, dissonant, and claustrophobic nature to the music Krell began self-releasing, and when some of those same tunes turned up on Love Remains. The music, often disorienting and murky, is not inaccessible—no, not exactly. However, it did, and perhaps it still could, keep a listener at arm’s length based on its lo-fi production values and just how deep within the shadows Krell was working. 

And this was, of course, the era for that—shadowy, or even mysterious, lo-fi R&B. This is the era when Abel Tesfaye’s project The Weeknd was in its humble beginnings, building mystique around the series of self-released EPs depicting absolutely depraved and debauched behaviors. 

Krell, though, with How to Dress well, and his voice hitting a fragile, higher range, often sounded ethereal—and in that ethereal place, it was difficult to make out just what he may have been singing about at times. Just distant enough that you can’t completely understand all the details. His vocals layered, but practically indiscernible within the seemingly endless reverberation and echos that swirled within the environment of every song.  


And this is, perhaps, the part of this story that will be the most difficult to tell.

And not even a story—not really. But rather, this is a time in my life that is perhaps the most difficult for me to revisit.

And that is not for lack of trying, though, in revisiting, and in telling it as a story.

In the past, when this has been a story that I have told, or tried to tell, what I am uncertain of is if I have ever quite gotten it right—not that I have been inaccurate, but rather, if I have told it the way I truly wanted to. Will there ever be language eloquent or emotional enough to use?

Will the depictions be as vivid as I need them to convey everything I want?

This is the part of the story that will be the most difficult to tell.

There’s an ocean floor for everything. 

For me, the sun, and he—gone.


Krell’s second full-length as How to Dress Well, Total Loss, was released near the end of September of 2012—upon arrival, there was a very apparent night and day difference in the album’s production value compared to its predecessor, as well as a noticeable growth in Krell’s songwriting simply in terms of structure. 

You could argue that Krell, as a singer and performer, had grown more confident since the project’s inception three years prior, and that he was slowly beginning to pull back some of the densities that he buried his vocals under in the project’s older material. Or, you could argue that these songs, and the conceit of loss that they were loosely connected by, demanded that his voice be more prevalent in the mix within a majority of these songs specifically, so that the listener was better able to discern the importance of his thoughtful, at times charming, often poetic and earnest lyricism. 

Produced almost entirely by Rodaidh McDonald, whom Krell would again work with two years later on “What is This Heart?”, Total Loss is an album primarily coming from within a dark space where there is light attempting, as best as it is able, to get through. Musically, a blistering amalgamation of Krell’s love of 80s and 90s R&B, glitchy and noisy experimentation, and layers of atmospherics and electronics, it is a collection of songs that, in the end, ruminates on the idea of loss—yes, like the immediacy of it within the moment when everything truly changes, but also what happens in the face of loss, and in doing so, walks the line between brief, bright flashes of joy, explosive moments of beautiful, devastating catharsis, and a palpable anguish and sorrow.


And the signs were all there, perhaps at times even in the year prior, when there had been particular moments—days, weeks, where things had not been going particularly well, and I was just simply unable to hide it on the air, but especially throughout 2012—as the spring turned into the summer, then the summer into fall, I found it was harder and harder to maintain any kind of facade, and that difficultly continued to slowly seep into the hour of music I would select to play, and how little I would speak, on air, in between songs or commercial breaks—saying the bare minimum about the song, the artist, or the show itself. 

And I was going through the motions, yes, of putting the songs together to play on the air, each day, but the further into the year I got, the less and less interested in it all I became.

At times, within the first year or so of working at the station, I would regularly become unreasonably upset or irritated if the time slot my show aired during was at risk of being pre-empted by a broadcast of a Minnesota Twins game—but in the final weeks and months, in 2012, if I were to be pre-empted for whatever reason, I was actually surprised at how grateful I felt to have a day without the show. 

It meant one day where I wouldn’t have to try as hard, or feign interest in something I could barely bring myself to do at that point. 

The signs were all there—and I can laugh about it now, and often do, if my previous career in radio ever comes up in conversation, though it rarely does. But the show, eventually, became a giant cry for help that nobody really heard. And if they did hear it, or did understand, then nobody knew what to do, or what to say.

The day, for no reason other than I was simply so depressed, where I played an entire hour of Elliott Smith—simply because I could, and nobody was going to stop me from doing it. 

Or all of the times “Asleep” by The Smiths was the final song of the hour before I left for the day shortly before 4 p.m.

The signs were all there, and with the hour of radio I had worked so hard to get, and a show I worked so hard to cultivate, I was unable to stop it from becoming an extension of myself—unable to prevent it from becoming too personal of a reflection on what was happening in my life outside of the confines of the station.


And this is, perhaps, the part of this story that will be the most difficult to tell.

And not even a story—not really. But rather, this is a time in my life that is perhaps the most difficult for me to revisit.

And that is not for lack of trying, though, in revisiting, and in telling it as a story.

It is difficult because it requires me to go back to a time that I would prefer not to revisit—and  it requires me to think about something that I have, frankly, been afraid to face for a decade—something that I have been unable to make peace with, or process, in any way.

At the beginning of 2022, when I was making the list of albums that within this year would be celebrating some kind of milestone anniversary—often just ten or twenty years, there were two2 I thought of right away. In thinking of them, I knew how difficult it would be to revisit them and revisit what was occurring in my life, in 2012, that I am unable to disassociate with the albums, and to some extent, the artists themselves. 

How to Dress Well’s Total Loss was one of them. 

Because the part of the story that will be the most difficult to tell is the one about loss and grief, and how I didn’t know what to do with either of those.

There’s an ocean floor for everything.

For me, the sun, and he—gone.


Popular music moves very quickly, and realistically, I don’t feel like a decade is all that long of a time—yes, certainly, a lot can happen within ten years. A lot often does, but it is also a period that is much clearer in my mind in terms of having to put myself back into this portion of my life, regardless of how much of it may be rooted in a trauma that I have never been able to come to terms with in a healthy way.

I can remember 2012 much more than I can recall the specifics of 2002. 

As an album, Total Loss does not sound dated or antiquated, but I cannot stop myself from saying that it is a product of its time and environment. At least in terms of its arranging and production, it is representative of where Krell was as a performer, only a few years into How to Dress Well as a project. Only four years following the release of Total Loss, he would reach a peak with the sound he was clearly beginning to work toward here, when he released the unfortunately maligned Care, which was his attempt at a pop record. How misunderstood it was by listeners and critics caused him to retreat a little further from how far into the light he had made it—the last album Krell released as How to Dress Well was 2018’s The Anteroom, a complicated, often dissonant, and disorienting set of songs. The project, since then, has been relatively dormant, due in part to the pandemic, and due in part to Krell finishing his doctorate in philosophy which he had been working on the completion, off and on, since the inception of How to Dress Well as a musical outlet.

Musically, Total Loss treads a fine line between songs that lean hard into Krell’s interest in 1990s R&B—the back-to-back sequencing of the slithering, smoldering, and claustrophobic “Running Back,” with the energetic, jubilant “& It Was U” is still an absolute revelation to hear, even today—and there is, throughout, a musical restlessness in terms of creating something with a real groove built into it and the bizarre juxtaposition of wanting to move your body to even something that is slow and smoldering, while feeling incredibly sad, like the album’s second track “Cold Nites.”

And it is those moments, as well as the glitchy, jittering, and swirling “Say My Name of Say Whatever,” represent a majority of Total Loss’s first half, and are among the album’s strongest and most compelling, musically speaking. 

What I had forgotten was just how mournfully Total Loss begins, with “When I Was in Trouble,” which more or less serves as an intro track to the album—it isn’t a mission statement, lyrically or musically, but it does introduce a stark tone that will course, in various ways, throughout the songs that follow. The songs burn the slowest, with a descending sequence of somber, eerie notes from a warbled, distant-sounding keyboard, mixed in with fluttering atmospherics and the sound of a train passing through.

And while so many of the songs on Total Loss can be removed from the context of the album as an insular song cycle about grief, and loss, there are two places within the fabric of the album where Krell connects one song to another—in the case of “When I Was in Trouble,” it is that opening lyric, and the line that follows, “You could understand for me that life was a struggle,” as it appears later, directed at a different “you” on the pulsating “Struggle.”

“When I Was in Trouble” exists in a place of simmering tension—it builds slightly, but never releases before it disappears, and then effortlessly and literally glides into “Cold Nites.” The keyboard melody in “Cold Nites,” fittingly, is icy in how it sounds as it tinkles and echoes throughout the song—which, upon the arrival of its first chorus, is moved forward through a dirge-like trudging that is only given a chance grow and then frenetically oscillate in the song’s final moments.  Even in its sense of restraint, and unease, that comes from just how dark and ominous the tone is, it is impressive that there is this undeniable groove built into how “Cold Nites” slinks along. Even in that musical restraint and unease, the rhythm, as it manages to do in so many other places on Total Loss, washes over you.


Have you ever wondered why you stress so hard you can’t even seem to wonder what’s on your mind?

There is this fascinating—both at the time of the album's release, yes, but even still to this day, contrast that Krell has built as the album begins to not so much play its hand, but does begin to reveal just how restless, sonically speaking, it is capable of being while it continues taking shape. Total Loss’s third track, “Say My Name or Say Whatever,” opens with an excerpt from the 1984 documentary Streetwise, which follows a small group of unhoused teenagers living in Seattle—the excerpt, which begins innocuously enough, ends on a bleak, sobering tone: “The only bad part about flying is having to come back down to the fucking world,” which is followed by a loud crashing noise—the stark, and startling nature of this opening is the juxtaposed with the jittery, swirling beauty of the song itself, as glitchy, playful tone ripples back and forth hypnotically, and Krell breathlessly, often pleading at times, sings over the top of it all, his voice still weighed down slightly by trails of reverb.

During the Total Loss era of Krell’s work as How to Dress Well, he sold a t-shirt at his live shows, and eventually through his website, that had a lengthy excerpt from the song “Special” by Janet Jackson, written across part of it. The closing track from Jackson’s sprawling 1997 opus The Velvet Rope, “Special,” is positively jubilant and triumphant in its sound and lyricism. It is Jackson’s work from this period—Rhythm Nation, Janet, and The Velvet Rope, as well as the latter-day and maligned work of her brother Michael (primarily Dangerous), that Krell doesn’t so much wear on his sleeve unabashedly as an influence, but uses as a means of inspiration once the album continues to ascend to its halfway point with “Running Back” and “& It Was U.”

The Janet Jackson influence—specifically of her work with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and the “New Jack Swing” kind of R&B sound courses through the quick tempo of “& It Was U,” which begins with a finger snap keeping time while Krell sings over the top of it, then allowing the additional layers of percussion and the other, very minimal instrumentation that is included—it is primarily a song that lives within the unrelenting rhythm it is built around, creating the foundation for what is a surprisingly jubilant moment on an album that is otherwise quite somber.

“Running Back,” then, is not the antithesis of “& It Was U,” and again, as Krell does within the first two songs on Total Loss, the final, singular beat of “Running Back,” which sounds an awful lot like a basketball being precisely dribbled, eventually speeds up, just slightly, as he starts singing the first lines of “& It Was U.” But even in the way they are seamlessly connected, “Running Back” is cloaked in a shadow—it’s not ominous, no, not exactly, but there is something just a little dark in the tonality of the song as it continues to unfold—maybe a little similar to the aesthetic from Krell’s breath through single as How to Dress Well, “Ready for The World,”3 which interpolated a portion of the R&B group Ready For The World’s slow jam “Love You Down,” while manipulating it enough to create a space that was claustrophobic, dizzying, and beautiful to hear. 


And during my time working in radio, I did not make a habit out of doing this, in part because I thought it may, and maybe really did, make for “bad radio,” and in part, because there never was a shortage of songs that I wanted to include in my hour—and you can only fit so many songs within an hour, but I believe there were two times, once in March of 2011, and then once in September of 2012, when I played an album almost in its entirety on the air.

The first would have been Wye Oak’s third full-length, Civilian, around the time it was released; the second would have been Total Loss, omitting the opening of “Say My Name” with dialogue from Streetwise, as well as the instrumental track that serves as an interlude and splits the album in half, I was able to make the rest of the record fit within the time I was given on the air.

This was how I tried to convey how much I believed in an album, or an artist.

And that was how much I believed in this album a decade ago.

The last song I played on the radio show I hosted for nearly three years was “Ocean Floor for Everything,” the final track off of Total Loss.

It was a Friday afternoon, in December, maybe a week or two before Christmas, and I had spent the last two days of that week, with my final two hours of radio, playing what had been my favorite songs of the year. And even in the year before I began writing about music, I still took several liberties with what wound up on the list of what I had deemed my “favorite” songs of the year.

Because my favorite song of the year was three songs—the final three songs in sequential order, from Total Loss: “Talking to You,” “Set it Right,” and “Ocean Floor for Everything.”

And it is, and almost always has been the case, that the songs from any given year that are the most emotionally impactful for me, are the ones that I refer to as my favorites.

This was how much I believed in this album a decade ago.


And this is, perhaps, the part of this story that will be the most difficult to tell.

And not even a story—not really. But rather, this is a time in my life that is perhaps the most difficult for me to revisit.

And that is not for lack of trying, though, in revisiting, and in telling it as a story.

Because the part of the story that will be the most difficult to tell is the one about loss and grief, and how I didn’t know what to do with either of those.

Total Loss is not a concept album, but it is a collection of songs loosely connected by Krell’s own loss, grief, and his attempts to process them as best as he was able to at the time. 

And what was understood at the time of the album’s release was the role that grief and loss specifically played in the final three songs, but what I neglected to understand, perhaps in my haste and the way I more or less lived in those songs as 2012 came to an end, was how much of a role grief, loss, and love play throughout Krell’s lyricism in other places on the album.

At some point, after the release of Total Loss, Krell released the lyrics for the songs in a PDF—which has lived on at least three of the laptops I have used over the last decade, and in my decision to spend so much time living within the grief and loss that are depicted in “Talking to You,” “Set it Right,” and “Ocean Floor for Everything,” and in my eventual misgivings about returning to this album as often as I might have if I did not associate it with such a long, difficult year, it has been eye-opening to return to it now, and comb through the lyrics that are not placed in the backseat of a song so much as they are slightly buried underneath of layers of murk or reverb, waiting patiently for you to find them.

And what I have come to have a much better understanding of now is not grief, or loss, because those are things, while I have continued to experience them in varying levels over the last decade—but what I have begun to think about more, is the idea of love. Not of romantic love—but of a platonic love, or, at the very least, the kind of extraordinarily strong affectionate feelings you can develop for another person. 

Total Loss, in the more “traditional” sense, is not an album full of love songs, but it is an album that, in the end, is at least in part about the love one person can feel for another.

The conceit of the album, at least loosely speaking, is Krell’s attempt at working through the loss of one of his closest friends—his friend’s death, unexpected, is directly addressed in the album’s final three songs certainly, but the unpacking of such a close relationship, and the fragmented memories associated with it over time, can be found the further you dive into the Krell’s lyricism. 

I am hesitant to say there is a “shroud of mystery” that hangs over the way Krell delivers his vocals, and the way they are muddled at times within the album, and over the last decade, there have been certain lyrics, or phrases, that I have certainly been able to discern a little clearer than others, but in revisiting Total Loss for the first time, in a long time, and for trying to listen with more analytical ears than I ever had in the past, the writing in the album is strung along in a rather literate and thoughtful way—written out and then delivered with a poetic nature that can be lost slightly once you take into account the other elements at work within a song.

The first time it is the most apparent, especially in listening now, is on “Say My Name or Say Whatever.”

As the synthesizer tones glisten and glitch back and forth underneath, Krell begins to sing of a narrative that is surprising in just how evocative and powerful it is while still hanging onto an ambiguity.

‘I wasn’t mistreated,’ he whispered as he came. And now you’re just sailing on—you’re sending on your pain,” Krell begins. “I was undressed in all your shame. Yours along waters too deep for me to care. Have you ever wondered why you stress so hard you can’t even seem to wonder what’s on your mind? Have you ever held yourself on a secret all in there? Have you ever had yourself for all one time? Have you ever asked, ‘Why are you cheapening yourself?’ Have you ever let a look of goodness spread across your face? Have you ever loved yourself out of a secret all in there?

The song, itself, far from the jubilance of a song like “& It Was U,” is still not downcast in its arranging, though it ends in an inherently somber tone: “And we sail away, but I was left alone,” Krell says. “I, just One, left alone.”

He returns to this kind of volatile, extremely personal reflection in the second half of the album, on “Struggle,” where the opening line of the album—“You were there for me when I was in trouble. You could understand for me that life was a struggle,” is repurposed, but instead of being a moody lamentation, Krell uses the phrase to craft a narrative that he sings with an urgency, allowing it to oscillate within the frenetic pulsing of the nervy, electro-infused instrumentation underneath. 

Like the portrait painted of a friendship in “Say My Name,” it is incredibly vivid in its use of language and ambiguity—revealing just enough without telling the story in its entirety. “I remember drinking with you in your bed,” Krell recalls. “What would it take for you to make it through the summer? What would it take to bring you back to me, my brother? What would it take just to say you were something that I could be calling a friend? Now you’ve got me saying, ‘We belong together,’ and I can’t believe that I won’t get to see your face again.


It’s a Thursday night in December when I meet Tom Krell.

The next day, a Friday, in the afternoon, I will play the final three songs off of Total Loss during what will be the final hour of the radio program I hosted, nearly every weekday, for almost three years—the show that I walk away from, with little if any second-guessing, simply because I am entirely too depressed to continue putting in the effort required to keep it up any longer.

When I play them at the end of the show, in a row, without stopping in between, and overlapping them as best as I am able with the limited crossfading abilities in iTunes, I will say that they are my favorite songs of the year—“Talking to You,” “Set it Right,” and “Ocean Floor for Everything,” simply because of the emotional and ultimately personal impact they had on me throughout the year.

When I meet him, Krell has, quite literally, just gotten off stage at the 7th Street Entry—a tiny venue that holds roughly 250 people, housed within the confines of First Avenue. It’s cold—winter in Minneapolis, and I am not wearing a jacket. The December air is an invigorating rush that cools my skin after being surrounded by the heat radiating off of other bodies, all of us standing in the darkness just beyond the stage, watching the performance.

During the years when How to Dress Well really began to take off, Krell was associated with Chicago; originally from Colorado, he also lived, for a few years, in Minneapolis, and he stands on the sidewalk outside of The Entry chatting with his friends, smoking a cigarette.

My friend Chris, who came with me to this show, stands behind me and quietly says, “You gotta go talk to him.”

I remember that I loomed just at the edge of Krell’s conversations with others until he, perhaps, noticed a nervous fan, waiting to talk with him. And what I said—like, what exactly I said, I do not recall, which is perhaps for the best. Because despite my best efforts at remaining composed when meeting someone I admire, I most certainly become star-struck. There is a good possibility that I said something like, “I really enjoyed your set tonight,” excitedly and anxiously blurted and mumbled out to him; but what I do remember was the reason that my friend Chris even encouraged me to go over and say something in the first place.

“I wanted to show you this,” I say to Krell as I slowly rolled up the sleeve of my sweater, revealing the words tattooed on my forearm—There’s an ocean floor for everything. For him, the sun, and me—gone.

Krell makes it a few words into the passage, and the look of recognition and surprise appears on his face, as he reads the words that he wrote, and that he had sung just minutes prior—reading those words on my skin, and he blurts out “That is so dope!,” and gives me an enormous hug. We talk for a bit longer on the sidewalk in front of the venue—I tell him something about how much the song helped me try to make sense of a difficult time I had during the year.

Before we part, Krell and I embrace one more time, and he tells me that the tattoo will get me on the list for any How to Dress Well show, in any city, no questions asked.

And this is, perhaps, the part of this story that will be the most difficult to tell.

And not even a story—not really. But rather, this is a time in my life that is perhaps the most difficult for me to revisit.

And that is not for lack of trying, though, in revisiting, and in telling it as a story.

Because the part of the story that will be the most difficult to tell is the one about loss and grief, and how I didn’t know what to do with either of those.


And there is, still, a decade later, an absolutely terrible beauty in the final three songs on Total Loss. There is, of course, the journey that Krell takes you on throughout the album from beginning to end, but there is a specific arc in its final moments—an anguish, a visceral catharsis, and then finally, as much acceptance as we are willing to give in the face of something unacceptable.

Roughly four months after seeing Krell perform at the 7th Street Entry, he was already on tour again in a co-headlining run of small venues alongside the polarizing singer Sky Ferreria, who had yet to release her then still long-gestating debut, Night Time, My Time—the two of them playing at the now-shuttered Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis on April 1st, 2013. His set, still pulling heavily from Total Loss, included “Talking to You,” which I was surprised to hear him taking on live because it is, in a sense, Krell dueting with himself. When he introduced it on stage, and I don’t remember his description exactly, he said something to the effect that the song is partially inspired by a late-night bicycle ride, having a conversation with himself about wants, needs, desires, and responsibilities.

Of the songs on Total Loss that directly, or at least less ambiguously, address the loss that inspired the record, “Talking to You” is the first where it is the most obvious, or easiest to understand.

“Talking to You” begins quietly, and slowly builds over roughly 40 seconds, leading into the start of Krell’s ruminations, and the swirling, sustained string accompaniment that is featured. “Don’t know what I want. Don’t know what I need. Don’t know who I am. Don’t know who I’ll be,” he begins, before the dialogue with himself takes a turn. “This is simple shit indeed, and it might sound trite. But it’s this shade that gives my days the shape of heavy plight.

Structurally, “Talking to You” builds itself up gradually before Krell lets go of the smoldering, somber tension, and the song, with the help of his otherworldly, ethereal range, and the sweeping drama of the string second, soars to devastating, chilling heights. And in the lead-up to that place where the song takes off, Krell continues to turn the song’s lyrics inward into a place of further introspection and a haunting meditation on loss. 

You cast a pall over my days since you passed away,” he sings. “Which is to say you left me in a state I can’t escape. And until you’re back, I know I’ll never, ever be the same. Which is to say I know I’ll never, ever be the same.”

Musically3, Krell introduces the themes presented in “Talking to You” at the album’s halfway point in the instrumental interlude, “World I Need You, Won’t Be Without You”—the expression itself he returns to not as a refrain, but as a grounding, calming mantra that “Talking to You” is centered around by its latter portion. “World I need you—won’t be without you,” he sings before pushing his voice into a higher register for the response. “Yeah, you say that now—what happens even after you’ve tried to?

In the songs on Total Loss that lead up to the album’s conclusion and the resolve, Krell is able to find for himself in the face of a total loss, “Talking to You” is the piece that is firmly rooted in anguish. “You don’t know what you did to me when you say, ‘What’’s up’ in that your so very your’s rhythm,” he utters breathlessly near the song’s end before delivering the last line that is among the things from this album, and this time in my life, that has lingered with me over the last decade.

You loved me like no other did, boy.”


There is a moment that I return to when I hear the opening, seemingly inhuman, distended howl that is built into the rhythm of “Set it Right”—it isn’t the first time I listened to the song, but it is a time when, as the autumn of 2012 slowly shifted into the winter, and I found myself slowly sliding further and further into a severe depression, and found myself turning more and more to Total Loss, I often think about a time when I was listening to “Set it Right” in the car, and I intentionally turned the volume up as loud as it would go, because I wanted to intentionally destroy what was left of the speaker system and lose myself within the noise.

There is a catharsis found within “Set it Right,” throughout, yes, but also specifically at the 2:34 mark, that I am still, after ten years, I find I am unable to articulate accurately. And perhaps it is because of simply how torrential that sound is, as it courses throughout the entirety of the song—a kind of desperate effort to outrun your sorrows and, in doing so, giving voice to all of the pain and grief, screaming it out into an abyss only to hear the echo coming back at you. 

But even within all of those feelings—the pain and grief, and the torrential nature with which everything is crumbling down around you, perhaps the most surprising thing about “Set it Right” is not just how powerfully cathartic it both is and sounds, but how triumphant and hopeful it winds up being.

Krell’s voice throughout “Set it Right,” even with where it lands buried within the song’s disorienting mixing, sounds larger, or more urgent, than it does anywhere else on the album—not yelling, or screaming exactly, but projecting itself as far as it can go above the dissonance, arriving as a declaration and an acknowledgment of what must, inevitably, be accepted. 

I won’t save my pride. I won’t strain my will,” he begins. “From the devil’s fire, light will shine down still.”

You know that you wanted everything to last forever, didn’t you? You wanted the world to come and make it better,” Krell continues against the cacophony surrounding him. “All that you could say was that you wanted to last a while, and even when life was cold, you never would have asked for life to stop.”

The acceptance, or at least some kind of understanding, comes within the song’s conclusion, after the disorienting, mournful howling sound comes rushing back in and knocking the wind out of you, as it still does to me even after a decade, two and a half minutes into the song. “That’s not to say I’m giving up on you, and I never meant to imply my love isn’t true. And I pray you will always love me too,” Krell attests. “Because in being true to you, I’m true to me too.”

And that is, perhaps, the thing that I recognized during my slow, gradual slide into darkness, overcome with a grief and sadness that I was unable to pull myself out of—recognized, but did not understand how to accomplish with any grace or authenticity.

In being true to you, I’m true to me too.


There is this moment in one of the final episodes of “The Wire” that I often think about.

It’s where the character of Bubbles, who, by the end of all five seasons, is the only character that has any kind of true, redemptive arc, is speaking in a church to those who have gathered for a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. 

Bubbles—once a heroin addict, unhoused, and a police informant, by the end of the series, is sober, and in addressing the other people at the meeting, among the things he reflects on, he ruminates on grief. 

Ain’t no shame in holding onto grief—as long as you make room for other things, too.

I have never figured out how to do the second part of that.

And I am thinking about a silence.

A terrible stillness comes in the aftermath of a loss and is difficult to put into words properly.

A silence that is among the loudest sounds. 

And this is, perhaps, the part of this story that will be the most difficult to tell.

If “Set it Right” is an enormous exhalation and cantharis, and the beginning of an acknowledgment of what, at times, is seemingly impossible—remaining true to the memory of a loved one while finding the truth within ourselves, then Total Loss’ final moment, “Ocean Floor for Everything” is an afterward, of sorts—a coming down, if you will, following the torrential emotion that preceded it, but staring in the face of what you know you will have to accept, whether you want to, or can in that moment, and that in the end there is no real resolution or easy answers for the human condition.

The rollout for Total Loss began around four months before the album’s arrival, through the release of two advance singles—the moody “Cold Nites” in July, and “Ocean Floor of Everything” in May.

Even in the brief flashes of hope found in “Set it Right,” it is so enormous that it truly creates the feeling that everything is crumbling down around you, and you are both running away from yourself and toward some kind of recognition through all of the wreckage. Musically, especially in the haunting, beautiful, and hypnotic way it ends, “Ocean Floor” is like someone gently releasing you into whatever comes next. It is one of the songs on Total Loss where Krell manipulates his voice the most—it is presented within an effective use of reversing when he utters the titular phrase, and as a whole, it is drenched reverb, so it floats along the rippling and pooling of the keyboards within the song’s opening moments. 

And because of the conceit of “Ocean Floor for Everything”—and it is the conceit that runs throughout a majority of the album—there is a real somber, melancholic, wistful feeling to the opening of the song, with the way the tones from the keyboard melody gently drift, giving way to the restraint in how Krell subtly builds the song up until its breaking point. And when it hits that point, it doesn’t explode, or take off somewhere with any kind of emotional ferocity. It doesn’t need to. It just lets you go as it runs its course, and there is the hope underneath it all that you do not let go—not of the memories of a loved one who you have lost, but letting go of the grief, or the pain, in the wake of that loss.

And this is, perhaps, the part of this story that will be the most difficult to tell.

And not even a story—not really. But rather, this is a time in my life that is perhaps the most difficult for me to revisit.

And that is not for lack of trying, though, in revisiting, and in telling it as a story.

Because the part of the story that will be the most difficult to tell is the one about loss and grief, and how I didn’t know what to do with either of those.

A few days after the release of “Ocean Floor for Everything” as a single, Krell wrote a very brief entry on the How to Dress Well Blogspot about the song, and shared its lyrics. 

He described it a very5 personal song. “I was supposed to meet a best friend who I hadn’t seen in a year. I was returning home, and he was supposed to be there waiting for me, but on my way to him, and to my home, he passed away. He always anticipated me,” Krell explained. “When we were younger, I’d discover something—some music, or some feeling—and he would have already known it, but he let me discover it for myself. It was like he was always ready for me to arrive. And then, this time, when I arrived, he was gone.”

And like so many of the songs on Total Loss, the way Krell writes the lyrics to “Ocean Floor” is like a poem—it is literal enough where it makes sense, yes, but it’s fragmented and hazy enough to give it a distant, devastating, dreamlike quality.

I know you were always ready for me, baby

Way before we met—I got there just to say, ‘Hey.’

And you were hoping for the day when you could say safely: “I have my place, I have my home, I have my future.”

But we never really plan for the worst of things, do we?

And then something like this happens—for the sake of me? 

Who? Me?

Who? We?

We’ve got feeling, got strength, and got the right thing for each other.

There’s an ocean floor for everything—for me, the sun, and he; gone.

Structurally, as slowly and as delicate as Krell brings you into “Ocean Floor for Everything,” and with the way the keyboard cascades effortlessly, it is a song that occurs in two distinct parts. 

Just barely over three minutes, and roughly at the song’s the halfway point, there is an enormous pause indicating the shift between parts—the song itself, the part of the song with all of the lyrics, stirs and swells as Krell delivers the song’s titular phrase, and after it swells, there is a silence, lasting roughly two seconds—the silence, played almost like an instrument itself, hangs for what seems like a lot longer, before the sound of a clap startles and resonates throughout, ushering in the song’s second half, and what brings it to a somber conclusion, searching for any kind of resolve along the way.

It’s the sound of that clap, and the briefest of pauses after it echoes out, when the slow, mournful rhythm comes in to carry the song to its end, along with the layers of keyboards swirling around, and Krell’s otherworldly, wordless singing, echoing across the top of it all. 

It’s the sound of that clap, that still shakes me—still surprises me, after all, this time, and it’s the way all of the elements to the song’s ending come tumbling together in such a heartbreaking way that is still a source of comfort, or familiarity, but also the sound of something that I have been trying, and failing, to outrun for so long. 


The part of the story that will be the most difficult to tell is the one about loss and grief, and how I didn’t know what to do with either of those.

The part of the story that will be the most difficult to tell is the one that nearly prevented me from revisiting Total Loss ten years after its release—the part of the story that regularly prevents me from revisiting it, and enjoying it for what it is, as an album, because I am unable to remove it from the context of this portion of my life.

We never really plan for the worst of things, do we?

Roughly six weeks before Tom Krell released “Ocean Floor for Everything” as the first single off of Total Loss, there had been a death in our family. 

Until April 3rd, 2012, I did not truly know death, or had experienced death up close the way others have. The closest I had come at that point was when my grandfather passed away when I was all of 11—we only saw each other a few times a year, but I remember taking it hard, and I remember a moment of nearly uncontrollable sobbing during his funeral.

Near the end of 2010, my wife and I adopted a companion rabbit—shortly after welcoming him into our home, we changed his name to Dennis hopper The Rabbit. So small, covered in soft gray fur, shy but slowly opening up with each day that passed, I quickly became attached to him, and spend most of my evenings sitting in, or near, the area we had set up for him in the living room. 

Maybe around three months after we had adopted him, Dennis Hopper The Rabbit became ill—severe enough that he required an emergency procedure. It was a success—he made it through, but I didn’t. Not really. The anxiety and the uncertainty in the weeks leading up to the point where he needed an emergency surgery took a toll on me. I stopped sleeping, and I lost my appetite, more or less forcing myself to eat small portions of food at lunch and dinner. I shed around 20 pounds I had never intended to lose and was never able to regain—my clothes, all of a sudden, much larger and baggier as they hung off of the thinner, frailer body I woke up to.

We had been given another year with Dennis—it was a year I was grateful for, yes, but it was also a year I spent in unease, just waiting for something else to go wrong with his health.

It would have been in March of 2012, a year after the surgery, when it was discovered that Dennis had dental issues—an abscess tooth that the veterinarian we were working with at the time downplayed the seriousness of, and gave us a referral to a specialist who would perform a surgery to remove the tooth in question.

And this is, perhaps, the part of this story that will be the most difficult to tell.

And that is not for lack of trying, though, in revisiting, and in telling it as a story. I have tried so many times. And am still trying. 

And then something like this happens—for the sake of me? Who? Me?

Who? We?

Dennis had made it through the procedure the year prior—the emergency surgery he needed to remove a bladder stone that he could not pass. He did not make it through the procedure for to remove the abscess tooth. 

And there is something indescribable about what it feels like on the long drive home from a veterinary clinic with an empty animal carrier in the backseat of your car.

I am thinking about a silence.

A terrible stillness, that comes in the aftermath of a loss, that is difficult to properly put into words.

A silence that is among the loudest sounds.

And there is, of course, the work that I tried to put in, around two years later, to convince myself that I was not to blame for what happened to him—that I did “my best,” and that the love we gave him was enough.

There is the work, but I never really did truly convince myself.

And there are parts to this story—things that I would only, in time, eventually begin to make more sense of, that are still extremely difficult to think about, and talk about—and those are the parts that I will still keep to myself.

I would have, of course, listened to Total Loss, and found it a compelling, beautiful statement regardless of the kind of year I had leading up to its release. But when “Ocean Floor for Everything” was released, just slightly over a month after I faced a loss that I did not know how to process, and in standing in the long, dark shadow of grief, I grabbed hold of the sentiment within Krell’s words and I never really let go.

I never really let go.

Ain’t no shame in holding onto grief—just as long as you make room for other things, too.

I have never really figured out that second part, even today.

There is something about Total Loss that still surprises me—even though it is an album I threw myself into headfirst when it arrived, and even though I know, deep down, what is around every corner, the gravity with which moments of this album hits still resonates just as hard as it did ten years ago—the extreme highs and lows, the unexpected moments of jubilance and triumphs, and the depths of anguish and resigned acceptance. 

It is an album that is so closely associated with a time, and a place, that even in just how emotionally challenging it is to revisit, there is comfort in just how exhilarating and thoughtful it remains.

There is an ocean floor for everything.

For me. The sun. And he.


1- This would have been entirely too difficult to try and explain in a concise way within the essay itself here, especially so early on, but there were other things that contributed to my decision to leave the job at the radio station, including a contentious and difficult relationship with a co-worker there who, at one time, had been a bit of a mentor and friend while we both found our way and developed our voices at the station. We had a falling out, and over the course of 2012, she, in a sense, was attempting to bully me out of my job there.

2- The other album was Put Your Back N 2 It  by Perfume Genius, which has been released in February of 2012, and my wife and I made the mistake of going to see a Perfume Genius concert roughly two weeks after the death of our companion rabbit as depicted near the end of this piece. Even with how much I loved Perfume Genius at the time, I have not been able to really listen to any of the subsequent albums over the last decade, simply because of this association and the shadow that this period of my life casts on the music. I additionally tried to write about the tenth anniversary of Put Your Back N 2 It for the music criticism website PopMatters at the start of the year and had a relatively negative experience both with the editors of the site, and therefore trying to write the piece itself. 

3- Not that Krell has performed as How to Dress Well in a number of years, and when I saw him last, in 2016, I do not think it was part of the setlist, but when he would play “Ready for The World,” he would allow it to slowly segue into an interpolation of the R.Kelly song “I Wish,” often it taking into a dizzying and frenetic conclusion. At some point, after 2013, when there was a dialogue about how problematic R.Kelly was/is, Krell decided to stop including this cover in his set. He did, when performing it at the Triple Rock in Minneapolis, dedicate it to me, which I am grateful for. 

4. There was no way to shoehorn this into the piece, but “Talking to You” and “World I Need You, Won’t Be Without You,” both include a sample lifted from “In Your Dreams,” by James Nyte. The video is long gone now from YouTube—I watched it once a number of years ago—but it was a very bizarre, very earnest, homemade video involving Nyte at the keyboard. I get the impression that Nyte, or perhaps just “In Your Dreams” was one of those bizarre, mid to late 2000s internet things that you, perhaps, discovered or were shown by a friend, and are specific to a certain corner of the zeitgeist.

5- In his post, Krell describes it as being “v personal,” and I think this is what ultimately led me to begin using “v” in place of “very” over the last decade.