Friday, September 23, 2016

How To Dress Well - Care Review

How well does a Pop artist perform without a crowd? I ask that because How To Dress Well, the stage name of Tom Krell, has officially gone Pop with his fourth album Care. And yet, the Chicago-born songwriter's closest view of the charts came with his 2014 LP "What Is This Heart?" that appeared for one week on The Billboard 200 at number 145. To the mainstream crowd, he's a nobody, grasping for attention without achieving any fame. To the indie crowd, he's the conspicuous R&B singer who toyed with lo-fi techniques and ambient textures. Already an aging veteran, casual music fans would gawk and giggle at the fact that no song of his has exceeded a million hits on Youtube, a statistic that'll surely pique his indie fans' ears. The cold, hard truth is that with any evolution that directly involves going from Pop or to Pop, the artist stuck in the epicenter is bound to lose support. How To Dress Well is the case in point. He's someone whose original music offered a unique identity, which caused proper critic friction, only to disown his original creation in place of mundane monotony. Care, whether he wants it to be or not, is his final resting place.

Regardless of outcome, let it be known, I'll always appreciate succinct and tactile evolution. Now sure, daring artists capable of jumping ship to another grand plateau are preferred, but the David Bowie's are once in a lifetime. Artists with clear long-term goals are the next best thing. Because, as we all should know, there's nothing worse than a stagnate musician churning out uninspired recreations of what once made them famous. Despite transitioning into a style I'd deem as unfit for his original intentions, How To Dress Well, simply by building that linear narrative, deserves to be commended. Care could be seen, in his eyes, as the ultimate culmination of his work, where he's no longer bound by limitations behind the boards or in fan approval. The small instances of such that appeared on "What Is This Heart?" completely abandoned here. In a way, it's quite romantic. Even though he hasn't reached the limelight yet, the music thus far has seen a hollow, frightened man blossom into a figure fully owning what he deems rightfully his. Care, while pretty definitively his worst release thus far, stands with confidence, a merit How To Dress Well can be proud of.

However, the music is another story. Playing through Care a couple times then returning to the rather difficult, but aesthetically-rewarding Love Remains showcases just how stale HTDW's fourth LP is. The production is, unquestionably, too pristine. There's not a blemish on the record, everything is manufactured by design to be clean, orderly, and by the books. I'd offer examples if the entire LP wasn't composed of this one idea. Even Krell's vocals seep into a bare, single-minded tonality throughout, which bears strong resemblance to Justin Timberlake, and both of their idols, Michael Jackson. However, Krell lacks the personality of the former and the iconism of the latter, causing him to fall flat even when he's reaching high. Tracks like 'Anxiety' and 'They'll Take Everything You Have' are instances of this, where Krell's falsetto searches for some emotion only to come up empty. None of this is mended by the lyrics, which has, admittedly, never been his forte. More so than ever before, especially with his voice gleaming through squeaky clean audio levels, Krell's lyrics actually work as a deterrent, making it hard to look past the messages they aim to send for some simple Pop melodies.

Even mainstream's single-first mentality is present here, as Care's three best songs are its three lead singles. Being a 12-track project that only features two songs under four minutes, having those three, 'Can't You Tell,' What's Up,' and 'Lost Youth / Lost You,' all appear before we get halfway through the album is a poor structuring decision that leaves a whole lot of excess. When 'Lost Youth / Lost You' closes you're left with eight songs that'll never compare. For what it's worth, 'What's Up' is the standout, and exactly what HTDW should've been aiming for throughout Care, even if the opening lines ("I wanna know your mouth") try their best to put you off. It succeeds because the shallow life lessons are left for the verses, leaving a gooey instrumental Synthpop hook that's all fun and no filler. Much of the back half, like 'Anxious'' vapid take on personal shortcomings or 'Untitled's' tacky parental advice-giving, are far too concerned with these shallow messages than with providing a solid backdrop for HTDW to work with.

While the sequencing of Care makes sense from a logical standpoint, the more immediate tunes up front, the content-driven crooners in back, it's that humdrum finale that really drags Care to its grave. Reminiscent of the kitschy aesthetic off M83's Junk, tracks like 'Made A Lifetime' and 'They'll Take Everything You Have,' kill what momentum was left with their brazen attempts at reincarnating Seventh Heaven's style and motto. They're cheap, melodramatic, and utterly derivative. Care's failures largely fall on Krell's incompetence as a lyricist and regression as a producer, leaving little to no value in the final product apart from the actual Pop songs that aspire to be hits and nothing more. Might be a slap in the face to the king of Pop, and a stretch, but I feel had an aging Michael Jackson still been alive, failing to step away from the mic as many former idols who regress do, Care would be the album he created to cater to his elderly crowd trying to stay hip. "MJ is back!" the tabloids would read, as the one hit single reached the charts. But a week later everyone moved on, silent in their understanding that the album bore no more delectable delights. Care reads the same, only difference being How To Dress Well's in the heart of his career.

Before I finish this review, I'd like to share some more ludicrous opening lines off Care, because 'What's Up' isn't the only one. Think of this as an added goody bag of how not to be a lyricist.

"Why am I so pathetic, why am I addicted to such attention?" ('Anxious')

"Help a child understand its sadness, this is a song that I thought I should sing." ('Untitled')

"I don't wanna wait, I won't hesitate, I wanna call the president and say what's right." ('I Was Terrible')

"I wanna learn to care for my soul, I wish you'd care for my soul." ('Salt Song')

"When you're lying face down on the ground and nobody cares to notice." ('They'll Take Everything You Have')

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