The major point of contention on How To Dress Well’s 2010 debut, Love Remains, was the digital crackle caking most of Tom Krell’s solitary compositions. The effect gave the songs a dug-up and deteriorating quality that most seemed unsure of as intentional. Regardless it was an overt part of the record that you had to accept in order to enjoy the songs. On his Just Once EP, Krell wipes clean a few of the more ambient tracks off of Love Remains and gives them the orchestral chamber R&B treatment. After the critical uproar that followed in Love Remains‘ wake, this might’ve seemed like a quaint experiment or a victory lap, but considering how starkly the EP strays from the lonely static-filled atmospheres of HTDW’s debut, as well as many of its defining facets, it becomes an essential document for the young artist and one that stands pretty enjoyably on its own.
The question of Krell’s vocal ability was put to rest a little earlier this year when he appeared beside Pat Grossi in a feature spot on Active Child single, “Playing House,” and Just Once only reinforces that Krell being swamped by distortion and reverb on Love Remains wasn’t a necessary barrier for the vocalist to hide behind. Here his voice is left comparatively stark and bare with only a touch of reverb. It’s also placed pretty high in the mix, which is sort of a revelation if you play the album and EP versions back to back. Though that’s certainly not a prerequisite. On “Suicide Dream 1″ things open with an a cappella vocal melody chorus, which is soon joined by the quiet shivering rise of a string section and a pastoral piano before Krell takes center stage as the ambiance writhes behind him.
Just Once is startling in how delicately arranged everything is. Love Remains felt aggressively homemade with the synths, vocals, and samples pooling into a singular puddle of reverb. There were moments you could even hear Krell slapping his laptop to stop a vocal take. Just Once sounds expensive and purposeful, which, of course, sheds some light on the potential Krell has as a producer, but it also just works here to bring these songs from behind that wall of repressive reclusiveness. “Suicide Dream 2″ begins with a tense yawning violin before a beautiful wash of piano slowly wraps tendrils around the track. Near the halfway point everything sort of drops away to let singular notes peel off into the expanse while Krell’s yearning half-lidded whispers waver around the space. While this EP is touted as “orchestral version,” HTDW is wise to keep the vocals at the forefront and the aspect of orchestra understated.
“Suicide Dream 3,” the only song on Just Once that is not a redux of Love Remains material, is the track most awash in strings, letting lapping melodies layer behind Krell’s slowly fluttering vocals. “Decisions,” while perfectly serviceable, is the only thing here that doesn’t really add much. It’s also the only track with an actual beat – hand claps and booming bass drum stomping their way through a thick mesh of strings. HTDW’s ambient tracks are some of the most striking and they’re really the songs appropriate for this stringed-up treatment. Just Once is certainly a singular release and not a direction for HTDW’s future (though more of this stuff wouldn’t be unwelcome), but it’s still moving in a way that is completely individual.
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London-based multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood takes some time to talk briefly with Beats Per Minute about a few of his favorite records.
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