Hot New Joint: "The Anteroom" by How to Dress Well
Since the project launched into the world at large in 2010, Tom Krell has released a new record under the How to Dress Well moniker every two years; his most recent, the full-blown ascension into densely layered pop music, Care, arrived in 2016.
If you follow Krell on social media—most active on Twitter and Instagram—he has shared a lot of Instagram stories from the recording studio, so a new How To Dress Well record seems imminent, as we are technically due for one.
In advance of whatever that new record is, and whenever it may arrive, last week, Krell released a two song single—Land of The Overflowing Urn, comprised of one full song, “The Anteroom,” and one seven-minute, seamlessly edited together, multi-part suite, or preview, of additional new material.
The last eight years have been ones of growth for Krell as a musician. He went from nearly anonymously releasing How to Dress Well material on the internet in 2009 to putting out a full length comprised of the best of his self-released canon, Love Remains, the following year. At the time, ‘dark’ and ‘murky’ didn’t do Krell’s sound justice—intentionally lo-fi and cacophonic, Krell buried his voice under innumerous layers of reverb, losing it purposefully in the mix.
Since then, Krell has slowly stepped out of the shadows—his voice becoming less effected and more prevalent; the music, too, became better produced, more bombastic, and daring. The ‘lo-fi R&B’ days of Love Remains and even its follow up, Total Loss, were long gone with the huge pop statements of 2014’s “What isThis Heart?” and Care.
However, Krell seems to be, musically speaking, taking some steps back with what he’s revealed on Land of The Overflowing Urn. Gone are the overt pop song leanings, as well as the Technicolor arrangements and instrumentation; it’s not a total retreat to the lo-fi, bedroom recorded days, but it’s more akin to that aesthetically than Krell’s last two full-lengths.
The focus of Overflowing Urn is “The Anteroom,” a glitchy, slithering four minutes that pulses around myriad percussive sounds—some obviously programmed, some live sounds that are heavily manipulated—while swirling synthesizer tones and sounds osculate and shiver. The song itself slants in the direction of what you could call ‘electronic music,’ though it’s very reserved in both its tone, as well as in Krell’s vocal delivery—singing in his otherworldly falsetto, and through minor distortion, he breathlessly delivers a string of some of his most fragmented and evocative lyrics.
An ‘anteroom,’ is a waiting area—and knowing that gives insight into Krell’s lyrics, which are a stark, poetic meditation on the meaning of this life, our own mortality, and the idea of a life after this one. Through it, he paints vivid, and at times, chilling imagery—“Can I feel nostalgia for a death I will never know?,” he asks early on; then, later, in what serves as the song’s refrain—“Would you laugh when they play it all back and in the movie of your life, you only speak in one scene?...And when they ask you what you mean, your lips are moving, but the mic’s not on?”
The multi-part suite that is featured on Overflowing Urn includes a somewhat large portion of “The Anteroom,” but instead of the resolve that the proper song concludes in, it descends into dissonance, in the harsh, electronic squalls and blasts of “False Skull,” a cacophonic instrumental that ends the seven-minute mix.
The suite, or preview of things to come, or whatever you want to call it, also begins with a bit of dark sounding dissonance—the first 24 seconds come from a piece called “Vacant Boat,” and it finds Krell’s voice, manipulated and stretched, buried as far back as it could be, reverberating off of twinkling keyboards and a very ominous whooshing sound; this all gives way to “Nonkilling”—a slow, and somber piece that almost serves as an intro to “The Anteroom,” simply because it features the same lyrics. Here, though, Krell’s voice has a dense and flat effect to it, the words deliberately hanging on the wonky, off-kilter synthesizer tones that back him.
Twice in his past, Krell has appealed to the traditional—“here’s a new single, and here’s a specific date when the new album comes out” kind of announcement. With “What is This Heart?,” the announcement of the album’s release came after the surprise arrival of the first single, “Words I Don’t Remember”—and he seems to applying a similar strategy; this surreptitious single and multi-part suite or preview of music, coupled with no additional information at this time, return a shroud of mystery to the How to Dress Well project.
Following my time spent with “The Anteroom,” I went back and listened to Care, for the first time in a very, very long time—while there are obviously distinct things about each that are trademark of How to Dress Well, it’s a night and day difference. Care was Krell’s shot at a huge and ambitious pop album, and I am uncertain as if people really understood it. Krell himself has expressed his frustrations with how the record was received at the time of its release, and recently tweeted something about having tried to make music that appealed to ‘the algorithm,’ with the hope of financial gains to support his disabled siblings.
Prior to that, he said simply, all in caps—“DO NOT MAKE THE MUSIC THE ALGORHITIM WANTS. MAKE THE MUSIC YOUR SPIRIT AHCES TO HEAR.”
“The Anteroom” is not music for the algorithm—it has pop elements, sure, but it’s dark and claustrophobic sounding with enigmatic lyrics. Krell’s music as How to Dress Well is always transformative, and the kind of music that takes its listener somewhere; here, Krell leads you to the narrow space between the darkness of his earliest material, and the small pool of light from his latter day output; a truly surprising and innovative turn.
Land of The Overflowing Urn is out now as a digital single, via Domino Records.