Review: How to Dress Well, ‘Just Once’ EP

Stream ‘Just Once’ in its entirety:

Last year, philosophy student Tom Krell, under the moniker How to Dress Well, released his debut full-length, Love Remains. An assemblage of songs previously freely released on his blog, the product is an aural paradigm shifter: a piece filled of so many blends and swirls of sound that almost magically coalesce into a singular aesthetic, that it evades any stereotypes or lazy categorization. Outright atmospheric, incredibly lo-fi, heavily R&B inspired, and alive with layer upon layer of ethereal, mostly indecipherable falsetto, Love Remains seeks to seduce. That is, it demands repeated, intimate listenings as well as rounds in which it simply washes over the listener if its brilliance is to be fully (or, near-fully) appreciated.

Likewise, the 2011 Just Once EP is both demanding and accessible. But this time, the electronic elements, dominating distortion, and lyrical indecipherability are absent. Rather, this four-song collection is composed exclusively of glimmering, perfectly clear orchestral arrangements. One new track is present–“Suicide Dream 3”–and the rest remain needing worthy singular appreciation and begging comparative listenings to their Love Remains counterparts.

And what verdict does such comparison, as lacking in objectivity as it may be, allow? Krell is a true phenom of an artist. The fogged-out dreamscapes–the panaroma of weird, blanketing, comforting sounds and strangely memory-jogging vocals–of Love Remains, once the fog has cleared and the sun is at its peak, are no less awe-inspiring on Just Once.

“Suicide Dream 2” perhaps serves as the best example of why Just Once isn’t a derivative or secondary work, but rather alternate and, scale considered, equal in many ways. As it appeared on Love Remains, “Suicide Dream 2” was a reverb-heavy, speaker-garbling, vocally pretty but lyrically fragmented masterwork. The orchestra and piano-backed Just Once version is a poignant, ┬ádeeply relatable reflection on what was, what might’ve been (“When I was five / what was happening in my life?”), and whether these memories are even reliable. The high-pitched, crying resolve that he was “happy then, happy, just happy” only add to the pain and conviction of the overall delivery. And this–a remarkably well-written story–may have remained forever buried beneath the tomb-like ambiance of the Love Remains aesthetic.

“Suicide Dream 2” from Love Remains (the video is unofficial):

Then, as hinted earlier, Just Once holds two primary values: that of a damn good orchestral EP laced with unearthly pop harmonies, and that of a blueprint to some of the highlights behind the How to Dress Well mothership. Even at just over 15 minutes of running time, Just Once promises to require many listenings to be unpacked; even then, for me, everything How to Dress Well resembles an inverted matryoshka doll–with each listen, the picture defies magnificence and swells further.