Tom Krell proves once again that he is staunchly unafraid to try new things.
November 13, 2018 | by Dan Alvarez
How to Dress Well
Tom Krell isn’t afraid to try things. He began his career making haunted, amorphous bedroom recordings, equally as influenced by Tevin Campbell as he was by Grouper. Over time, the R&B touches faded and was replaced by the pure-hearted pop of artists like Tracy Chapman and Everything But The Girl. I mean, the dude has covered Janet Jackson, Sheryl Crow, Smog, Tink, and fucking Taking Back Sunday. This is a man of extremely varied tastes.
Just about everything came off until his most radical departure, 2016's streamlined, Jack Antonoff-assisted Care. In an illuminating recent blog post, Krell admitted that the project was an effort to shift HTDW from critical darling to commercial force, ensuring his family’s financial future in a way that a lifetime of Pitchfork BNMs never could.
Though his motivations were understandable (if not, noble), the uneven disc dealt Krell his first critical blow. That said, he responded in the same way he always does. He tried something. The Anteroom is his most experimental, exhilarating project since his 2010 debut, Love Remains. If you’ve ever seen him DJ, you’ll know about his affinity for challenging, oblique techno. And on his fifth LP, he and the ultra-talented producer Joel Ford insert those influences into the HTDW mix, beautifully intertwining them with the wholehearted, pure pop and ambient-leaning soundscapes of his previous work.
Though a few of the icy, pulsing backbeats feel more interlude than integral, they often ratchet things up emotionally. In the build-up to Care, Krell remarked that the disc had been a response to the "deficit of joy in music." And though much of the lyrical content ranges from "staring into the void" to "blacker than black" (see: "July 13 No Hope No Pain"), the clever insertion of club music actually yields some of the most joyful, rapturous passages that I heard this year.
When the breakbeat comes in midway through "Hunger," you can almost hear Krell’s feet come off the ground as he finally gives in and releases his body into the darkness. "Body Fat" beautifully bridges his ghostly early work with the subtle thump of a faraway dance floor, as he explores the way we store emotional trauma in our bodies. On "A Memory, The Spinning of a Body," the sub-bass propels its insecure, confused narrator away from the unanswerable questions that plague him and closer to the one he needs to ask them to. These moments mirror the way visceral club music can get us out of our minds and into our bodies — transforming our existential paralysis into elemental action.
Which brings us to the album’s centerpiece — the naked, beautiful "Love Means Taking Action." Krell cleverly lifts the impossibly lush synths from Croatian Amor’s undulating instrumental, injecting the crushing original with something I never would have thought it needed. Easily one of the most affecting songs of the year, it is a stark reminder that no matter how we feel, we have a duty to the ones we love to push through and show up for them. It’s as melancholy as it gets, but cracks of hope can’t help but shine through and illuminate a future that is as full of possibility as the artist who created it.
Watch "Love Means Taking Action" live in Paris