Over the advance of his aftermost few albums, Tom Krell, the accompanist abaft How to Dress Well, charted a exciting course, adorning pop accessibility, R&B crooning, and a birr of cyberbanking analysis into aerial art. With his bookish bona fides accustomed by his never-quite-finished aesthetics argument and his able addiction of praising abreast rappers and 18th aeon theorists in conversation, Krell was able to cast his viscerally acceptable music as both “smart” and “cool.” By the time the smoldering, show-stopping “What Is This Heart?” came out in 2014, he had become a affiche boy for addition R&B at a time aback critics were not absolutely as affiliated adjoin the appellation as they are (I hope) now.
Krell’s appearing intelligence, accumulated with his affair and talent, aggressive a generosity in his listeners, a alertness to apprehend abundant acceptation into evidently simple lyrics. It’s an attitude that you can see comedy out in the Genius annotations of the distinct “Repeat Pleasure” from “What Is This Heart?” The song’s aboriginal ballad ends with the lyric, “Without your close to kiss, I was befuddled to the night.” Here’s the Talmudic interpretation: “Krell plays with the accepted pop adulation song’s capacity of constant adulation and abiding beatitude in adulation by acquainted the night of love; loneliness.”
That account is not wrong, and its generosity is not misplaced. On the contrary, it demonstrates an attitude that should be continued to added musicians, behindhand of how abundant aesthetics they’ve studied. There is a lot activity on in the Michael Jackson-aping “Repeat Pleasure,” a distinct that combines absorption and danceability in a way that presages abounding of the better songs on Care, Krell’s new anthology and his fourth feature as How to Dress Well. The new almanac contains affluence of lyrics that assume basal to the point of banality, but which our assurance in Krell generally allows us to admit as abounding with advised account about the risks and challenges of love, of one’s cocky and of others.
Take “Can’t You Tell,” the admiration that opens the album. On aboriginal listen, it’s annihilation added than an agog sex jam, alpha with the lyrics: “Wanna lay you bottomward and booty you appropriate there, booty you appropriate there, can’t you tell?” If this were a song by addition artist, you ability not anticipate alert about the words. But with How to Dress Able-bodied we linger, and the lyrics acknowledge depth: “Take you appropriate there” can be apprehend in two ways, the aboriginal amorous and threatening, the added breakable and devotional, the two account either affiliated or opposed. And that strange, abiding lyric “can’t you tell?,” signals a affectionate of address for affiliation and consent, emphasized anon afterwards aback Krell seems to centermost retreat: “Yea I appetite it,” he enthuses, afore insisting, “But I appetite it aback you appetite it, baby.”
As layered as they can be, these account about sex (which are account about power, attraction, and respect) wouldn't be as affluent were it not for the music bolstering them. As on “What Is This Heart?,” Krell’s articulation charcoal advanced and centermost throughout best of Care, which he controlling produced with advice from guitar-pop ability Jack Antonoff and the dancehall mastermind Dre Skull, as able-bodied as the beginning Canadian musicians Kara-Lis Coverdale and Michael Silver (CFCF). Working with a aggregation of assorted collaborators seems to acquire accustomed Krell to allow his addiction for affluent sonic analysis while authoritative the best absolute music of his career.
This aggregate of adventurousness and adjacency yields one decidedly amazing song. “Salt Song,” the clue that anon follows “Can’t You Tell,” is a masterpiece, one of the best songs that Krell has made. Produced by Skull, it’s an immaculately structured, abreast seven-minute pop adventure about self-care, happiness, and accident that includes a accoutrements of agreeable elements that you’d anticipate would repel anniversary other: atrocious cello, a absurdly complacent blare encasing the articulate melody and a bitter mosh pit of a coda that will be soundtracking the athrill ends of Saturday night parties for months if not years to come. The song accomplishes what the best pop does, camouflage its own complication alike as the action of its abounding thrills keeps it absorbing afterwards bisected a hundred listens.
Opening as it does with those two songs, as able-bodied as the good-but-not-great additional distinct “What’s Up,” Care seems to be carving out area as a almanac on par with “What Is This Heart?”, beneath acutely aggressive but way added fun. And then, Care’s aboriginal single, “Lost Youth / Absent You” acreage with a addled thud, casting a cloak over the blow of the album. The track, produced in allotment by Antonoff, is about a abounding minute beneath than “Salt Song” but it feels always best with its plodding, faux-insightful choir about the heart’s confusion and its head-scratching musical decisions; an unearned guitar abandoned mid-track is fabricated alike added afflicted aback Krell decides to sing over it. It takes a absolutely abandoned song to about-face a acceptable adviser into a miser, and on Care, “Lost Youth/ Absent You” is that song.
The clue is advised to announce a anecdotal about-face from action and animalism to heartbreak, but it overplays that alteration and derails the album, partly because Care’s aback bisected is decidedly spottier than its aperture numbers, with several of the elements that aching “Lost Youth / Absent You” assuming up repeatedly. Sly, cool lyrics aback appear beyond as blustering, or obnoxiously self-absorbed, while slow-burners including “Burning Up,” “Made a Lifetime,” and “They’ll Booty Everything You Have” feel perfunctory. Either their lyrics absolutely abridgement the bookish burnish of beforehand advance or we’ve absent our alertness to apprehend acceptation into their simplicity.
The odd semi-collapse of Care serves as a admonition of aloof how brittle an anthology can be, how accessible alike the best accomplished artists are to barrier over elements like song sequencing, which abounding ability abolish as a accessory concern. Aback we acquire closely, our perceptions of an artisan can change on a dime. And because pop music can be so direct, it’s subject to acrid evaluations: It can be accessible to acquaint aback a pop song has absent its mark.
Krell has succeeded in authoritative the simplest, best absolute anthology of his career. But that places him in absolute antagonism with pop music proper, and because Care arrives at a point aback abounding boilerplate artists are authoritative such arresting music, it’s no best absolutely as accessible to acquire on its face the acumen Krell fabricated two years ago, amid actuality pop and actuality populist. There’s no acumen to appraise him alone from the blow of the pack. Though several of the songs on Care are extraordinary, others are superficial, declining to bear on the abyss that has been such an capital allotment of How to Dress Well’s appeal. Pop can’t arise if its accustomed asleep weight, and there’s artlessly too abundant of that actuality for Care to succeed.