Exclaim!'s Best of 2014: Top 20 Pop & Rock Albums, Part One

14. How to Dress Well
"What is This Heart?"
(Weird World Record Co.)

While Tom Krell's How to Dress Well project has always been concerned first and foremost with expressing intense universal emotions, he's often mirrored the complexity of love and life by deconstructing pop formulas and submerging the results in layers of reverb. But while the R&B/pop line toed by his most accessible record yet might sound like a potent genre meeting point destined for Top 40, "What is This Heart?" refuses to reduce those complexities to big, simplified anthems. Though the album's production often goes for broke, especially on tracks like "Face Again" and "Childhood Faith in Love (Everything Must Change, Everything Must Stay the Same)," Krell's voice balances passion with a palpable, gentle curiosity that suggests it's here to start a dialogue rather than tell it like it is.

"What is This Heart?" is the kind of special album that's hard to find in 2014: big enough to envelope listeners, yet intimate enough that it feels like Krell's talking just to you. If that seems a conundrum, it's because love is, too; "What is This Heart?" is a question with no easy answer. (Stephen Carlick)