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White Noise: How to Dress Well – Just Once EP

Sunday, 24 July 2011

How to Dress Well – Just Once EP

Suicide Dream 2 (Orchestral Version)

Suicide Dream 3 (Orchestral Version)

The cover of Tom Krell's latest EP looks an awful lot like the cover for the new Washed Out album, yet the positioning of the subjects are telling in how they portray what the artists are trying to say with these releases. The Just Once cover is less sexual and the couple seem to be holding each other more in a desperate attempt just to stay together. Compared to HTDW's cover for his debut LP, Love Remains, which was an obfuscated image of rocks and a street this is effectively a symbolic mission statement – here the obscuring distortion is stripped away and Krell's falsetto set to beautifully composed orchestral soundscapes, and through this a new level of emotional intimacy is uncloaked in his composition.

New arrangements are generally not massively interesting to anyone other than die-hard fans of the particular artists, and normally I'd agree that a song is best heard as it was originally intended, however the personal feel to this release renders it outside this simple statement. Nominally a collection of Suicide Dream tracks, the third dedicated to a recently deceased friend of his, this EP forms an immensely moving orchestral suite than, when heard, is undoubtedly more than worthy of a separate release.

I'm going to jump straight into the standout track here, because it's just that good. Suicide Dream 2 was always a favourite of mine on Love Remains, and it's the only track here that unquestionably gains from the new instrumentation. The track is not stripped but aggrandised by this treatment and the emotions made so much more gripping – the haunting sorrow and desperate pleas are set here on a larger emotional canvas and when Krell's vocals come to the front of the mix with “no air / no air / no air” his voice really touches on something deep down, achieving a landmark moment where Krell's music is more emotive than it has ever been before. It also neatly demonstrates that the falsetto set in the middle of the sparse production on Love Remains is magnificent in its power and range, a fact that an album as broken and produced as his debut couldn't confirm so easily.

Elsewhere the tracks vary in quality. Suicide Dream 1 doesn't suit the new orchestral bearing quite so well, it occasionally comes off as slightly too sugary and loses the melancholy ambience because of slightly clichéd strings but this is no major qualm; and in my opinion most of the reason it suffers is because the original song wasn't quite as strong a composition in the first place. Decisions is nice and suits the other three tracks well, but I wasn't quite sold on the new 'clean' sound to the track and went back to listen to the original. On doing this it became clear that although the new instrumentation works, it nowhere near matches the power of the first because the song gained its weight from those drum beats echoing off into a void and Krell's vocals trying to rise from the dusty production, and without these nuances it's fine but nothing special.

The new track, Suicide Dream 3, which is specifically dedicated to a late friend, is harder to gauge as it has no specific predecessor. It doesn't immediately reveal itself to be a highlight but it works well with the others. However on repeated listens it becomes clear that this is a carefully considered composition that will haunt you long after you've left it, and specifically the fluttering marriage of Krell's vocals and the violin which swell and descend together achieves another flawless emotional peak for the EP.

So this is certainly a quality collection of songs, some brilliant and some pretty good, but it does leave me asking about his previous style: isn't the deconstructionist distortion his 'thing' that makes him a unique producer? The answer is undoubtedly yes, and if this was a sign of HTDW's changed direction for a sophomore album I would be worried, but since Krell has gone on record stating this is a one-off recording style I'm satisfied to see the EP more as a side-project curio borne of intense personal pain which only serves to continue the consistently high quality of his output over the last 12 months.


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