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How To Dress Well – 'What Is This Heart?' album review

Tom Krell is dressed for success on his third album of mutated R&B

Like a good bit of hipster bashing? Then let me oblige: singer Tom Krell goes by a wildly pretentious alias and lives in a seemingly monochromed haze in the trend nexus that is Berlin. He’s also a white American male who has taken a heavy influence from R&B on his first two LPs and allied it to stark beats and arty electronic textures. That last point is significant for some, who have accused him of ‘gentrifying’ R&B.

Of course, as Londoners, we are experts in gentrification, and this really ain’t it. On an impressive and engaging third album, Krell has taken his childhood influences (Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston) down darker yet extremely accessible avenues. It’s a musical mutation, not an appropriation, and a bellwether for where music is in 2014.

There are falsettos, the odd MJ-style yelp and generous uses of the word ‘baby’ over the 12 tracks. But beyond Krell’s vocalisms, he’s learned one important lesson from R&B: sing it like you mean it. ‘Precious Love’ is delivered without a trace of irony, as is the echoey and club-ready ‘Very Best Friend’, which finds him proudly claiming ‘I know I can be extra sentimental’ like a doe-eyed Timberlake.

Where the album comes into its own, however, is when he meets the smooth with the rough. The marriage of cooing vocals and abrasive orchestral sweeps makes ‘Pour Cyril’ feel like a hug in a blizzard, while the volume rise during sex-tastic single ‘Words I Don’t Remember’ is wonderfully loud, disorientating and bombastic – just like sex should be, in fact. R&B purists may disapprove, but Krell has shown they’re just bumping and grinding in the distant past.
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