September 19, 2012
Difficult Second Album Syndrome (DSAS) has been the clichéd undoing of many an ambitious artist keen to recapture the magic of a well-received debut, with either a misguided attempt at a new direction or a desperate re-treading of former glories usually to blame.
How To Dress Well’s Tom Krell would be forgiven for suffering from a touch of DSAS, considering everything he’s been through in the two years since Love Remains — his influential first album that mixed washes of ambient noise and reverb with touches of early-nineties R&B and a haunting falsetto vocal. Instead, the Berlin-via-Brooklyn resident built on that album’s strengths, and crafted an emotional document of grief entitled Total Loss as its follow-up.
“I started writing in early September of 2010,” says Krell. “I was in the throes of a really fucked-up period in my life. My best friend had just died, totally unexpectedly, and I had gotten into a long-distance relationship, which is emotionally rending. And then my uncle passed away, and he was quite a figurehead in my family. It sent my mum into a depression from which she has not recovered, which rendered her silent for about two months. She couldn’t speak. I’ve never seen anything like that happen, you know?”
Understandably, the collection of songs that Krell accumulated over the following winter was incredibly dark. Most of these tracks haven’t made the cut for Total Loss, but one that did — positive closer ‘Ocean Floor For Everything’ — served as a framework for the album over this period.
“It was one of the first songs I put out [from Total Loss]. In that winter, I started to feel that if I didn’t figure out how to get out of the darkness that was taking over my life, it was just not gonna go well for me. And so I actually started using ‘Ocean Floor…’ just like a beacon, like as an end that I wanted to chart a path towards.”
In all, Krell estimates he made around 23 songs for the project. So what of those that didn’t make the album?
“The thing with the dark songs is that I’m very keen to release them, and I’m excited to release them, but I can’t imagine touring them,” he admits. “They’re still too depressive. There’s something magnetic about depression. It starts to pull you back into its rhythms and affects. I really look forward to releasing it in the future, but it just wasn’t right now.”
Despite a noticeable clarity in the production on Total Loss — in stark contrast to Love Remains’ blurred, cavernous aesthetic — stylistically the album has Krell’s “narcotised strain of R&B” dialled up to the forefront. And considering the state of mind of its creator during inception, there’s an unmistakable positivity to the release that sits comfortably alongside Krell’s musical ambition.
No sign of DSAS here, then.
Read this interview in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON