How to Dress Well is the nom du rock of on Tom Krell, a musician based out of Brooklyn. He used to make experimental music, and then he rediscovered his childhood love of early-‘90s R&B music.
Combining these two seemingly disparate influences — the abstractness of noise and drone, the directness and raw emotion of New Jack Swing R&B — he created his signature sound, a spacey, driving take on indie music that leans heavily on atmosphere and Krell’s fragile, raw falsetto.
His album Love Remains was one of the finest of 2010, and he’s only been improving since. His recent EP Just Once found Krell escaping the experimental soundscapes of Love Remains in favor of orchestral wooziness, and his one-off cover of R. Kelly’s “I Wish” focused on the emotional punch of the original version, cutting through the nonsense that has characterized Kelly’s career in the 2010’s.
His performance Tuesday night at Club Mystique on the Lower East Side was more or less everything one could ask for from a HTDW show, though whether that is a good thing is entirely subjective.
Krell is not a particularly dynamic performer — he stands at the microphone, stoic, emoting his little indie heart out, the veins in his neck bulging, his mouth stretching to get the notes out to the point where you could see the hairs on his pencil-thin moustache widen from the stress.
However, the stage was perhaps one foot above the crowd, and unless one was right up at the front, exceptionally tall or standing in the elevated bar area, seeing Krell was almost as valiant a struggle as what Krell was putting himself through up on stage.
While How to Dress Well’s music sounds great both live and on record, Krell isn’t the most dynamic performer, and he didn’t give the audience much in the way of distraction.
He performed alone, to pre-recorded backing tracks, with naught but a projector screen behind him.
Krell wasn’t above going into “diva” mode as well, at one point admonishing the audience, saying, “DO NOT try to snap and clap along, because it will ruin it for everyone.”
Though the sentiment was appreciated, perhaps asking the audience to remain passive and not immerse themselves into the performative experience was the wrong move.
Perhaps Krell could take a note or two from fellow Brooklynites DIIV, a band we reviewed a couple weeks back, who offer a similarly detached, ethereal take on another staple of early-‘90s classics.
DIIV cribs generously from classic alt-rock bands such as Pearl Jam, Dinosaur Jr. and Nirvana, and while logic dictates that the band would stand as stone-faced as Krell did on Tuesday, they poured themselves into the material with a reverent freneticism, lead singer Zachary Cole Smith flopping around stage like his life depended on it.
It might be the disconnect between Krell’s seriousness and the hidden joy in his music, but one hopes that he’ll let his metaphorical hair down a bit next time.