Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

How to Dress Well – & It Was U

Pictured: everything you love or hate about this song…


Brad Shoup: A winning slice of wake-up R&B, at least to start. Drums from varying traditions follow: new jack swing snaps, the steady four-on-the-floor of a rock-show breakdown, some house kicking to close. And over it all, Tom Krell’s formalist coos, voices stacked to diffuse the meaning of a bi-directional text, a dialogue between lovers at various stages in the dance. It’s a watercolor version of BLACKstreet’s “Love’s in Need,” or Jamie Lidell buried in shallow earth.

Alfred Soto: The kind of vaporousness that attempts to signify, well, something is embarrassing. Here an unmoored falsetto stays oblivious to a protean percussion bed. If we’d been reviewing the remix, I’d bump it a couple notches.

Ian Mathers: So if this guy couldn’t manage a passable falsetto, do you think his music would just fall apart completely?

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: The sheer amount of trend-herding writing that’s referred to Tom Krell’s one-man R&B project has led me to ignore him for some time, fearing some high-faluting artschool-irony take on Boyz II Men songs. I certainly didn’t expect anything plainspoken and emotive, so I’m pleasantly surprised by “& It Was U,” even if it feels structurally frail. A bonus point for Krell understanding that few things remain as intimate as simply talking over the phone.

Iain Mew: I like the feeling of running to stand still that builds up as the beat rattles away at speed while all of the layers build up and try to maintain a semblance of tranquility. Its “you don’t have to worry” comes off like it’s being sung with a manic grin while frantically hiding everything worrying behind his back.

Anthony Easton: Soul, with a capital S, with no real desire to be anything but a gorgeous example of its genre. Fantastic effects, especially the hand-claps and the echos. 

Jer Fairall: I keep assuming that genre purism motivates the backlash against PBR&B (or whatever you wanna call it), but records by Miguel and Frank Ocean sounded conventional enough to my ears to render this whole discussion pedantic. How To Dress Well’s Tom Krell (much like The Weeknd’s Abel Tesfaye, I guess) is a stranger case, suggesting the real source of ire is the egghead-y rendering of a genre known for its basis in the emotional and the sensual. Seems kind of ignorant of R&B’s rich history of moral, spiritual and political engagement, to me, but “& It Was You” (the least fraught moment on the emotional wreckage of Total Loss) mostly puts all of that aside anyway, incorporating West Side Story fingersnaps and an escalation of shuffling beats that locate the song’s focal points well within the hips and ass. Admittedly, Krell’s ethereal voice remains a tricky nut to crack; he sounds more at home in a meltdown than he does seducing or reassuring. The best soul men could always stride confidently through the entire journey.

Patrick St. Michel: This is way more enjoyable than the windy experimental R&B How To Dress Well first captured attention with, as “& It Was U” sounds less like an exercise in memory and more like a good time in the present. Still, just when it feels like this song is kicking into high gear it just stops, which is disappointing.

Edward Okulicz: I don’t know, really, it sounds like when this guy’s seducing a sexy lady, he’s probably thinking about the song he’ll write after he’s finished. Explains why there’s nothing much after it starts getting steamy, anyway.

Alex Ostroff: In the mixes leading up to the release of TOTAL LOSS, How to Dress Well’s Tom Krell repeatedly sampled an interlude from The Velvet Rope in which Janet Jackson insists “You don’t have to hold on to the pain to hold on to the memory”; this is not something he seems to believe. Obviously, anyone who interpolates Ashanti and making minimalist New Jack Swing beats is influenced by R&B, but How to Dress Well’s loops and samples and “AY!”s are rarely about release — they’re meditative and devotional and all about wallowing in the pain. His live cover of choice is a mournful take on R. Kelly’s “I Wish”. “& It Was U” is the most upbeat track he’s got, and it’s still an endless cycle of emotion and devotion bounced back and forth across cellphone signals (or telephone lines) — a balance between distance and intimacy that played a similar role in his earlier “Decisions“. He’s dialed back the reverb, but even in a track as relatively sparse as this one, he remains drowning in layers of his own vocals, declarations piling up higher and higher before fading away out of range.

Katherine St Asaph: Oh look, it’s January. James Blake’s glee club must be holding auditions again. And someone forgot the pitch pipe.

Reader average: [7.57] (14 votes)

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