How to Dress Well Learns All About Himself Through 'Care'

How to Dress Well Learns All About Himself Through 'Care'
Photo: Ben Tricklebank
Much ink was spilled earlier this year over Kanye West's real-time tinkering with The Life of Pablo and the idea of a "living" album. And while How to Dress Well's Tom Krell is a creatively restless individual, chances are low that we'll seem multiple iterations of his latest album, Care, out now on Weird World/Domino. Yet, more than any previous How to Dress Well release, Care tracks its creator's personal growth in real time.

Krell himself is never one to reflect on his own art while making it. "I'm just kind of going forward, plodding along," he tells Exclaim!

It's only after a record is done, while doing press, that he's forced to confront his own motivations and decisions. "I'm often quite surprised by things I learned about myself in my own music."

This time, that learning process plays out in real time. The most clear-cut example is the seven-minute epic "Salt Song," whose chorus changes as the song's narrator gleans new knowledge in the verses. "The growth is on the record, instead of me reflecting on the record after it's done."

Krell credits a growing disinterest in "abstractness and impressions" — this from an artist whose debut buried his own vocals under layers of reverb — and a key scene from the film Mommy for a heretofore unheard level of lyrical and sonic directness.

"I'm just at a different place in my life right now. I don't want to hear a lyrics that is wilfully obscure, or a voice that is wilfully buried." Paraphrasing Oneohtrix Point Never's Daniel Lopatin, he says, "It's really easy to make something beautiful with a ton of reverb and delay. It's very difficult to stand naked and look beautiful."

He found that naked beauty in Quebec director Xavier Dolan's Mommy, particularly a scene where the film's main characters bond while listening to Celine Dion's "On Ne Change Pas."

"It changed something about the way I think about pop music," Krell explains. "The way in which pop music is connected to desperation in people's lives. On the one hand, it's a soothing balm to this life, but you realize, it only lasts as long as the song plays. Still, it doesn't diminish its value."

Armed with a new sense of clarity of purpose, Krell stripped demos he'd written of digital effects, paring them down to their most basic versions. He then got in touch with a handful of producers, including Dre Skull, CFCF, Kara-Lis Coverdale and Bleachers' Jack Antonoff, to help bring his vision of "exploratory directness, not finished fakeness" to life.

Reflecting on what he's learned about himself, Krell realized that he had previously identified truth in art with "a certain kind of masculine seriousness" that couldn't see a connection between emotions like pleasure, fun and tenderness with artistic truth. Instead he identified truth with "a brooding seriousness and shitty male vibes. I'm so unmoved by those things now."

Check out "What's Up" from Care below.