On his 2010 debut as How To Dress Well, Love Remains, Tom Krell cloaked his R&B-inspired laments in a haze of reverb, hiss, and distortion that rendered not only lyrics, but essentially entire songs indecipherable. That murky production could be transfixing, conjuring blurry memories of music only heard from a distance, and leaving the imagination to fill in the details. But there were also moments where the aesthetic felt more like subterfuge than artistic prerogative, since so many tracks faded to mist or cut out abruptly at convenient times, as if to disguise the limitations of Krell’s voice, or possible gaps in his songwriting.
How To Dress Well’s Just Once EP insists that wasn’t the intent. By scrubbing the lo-fi tarnish from three Love Remains songs and reworking them with clean, orchestral arrangements (along with a thematically related new track, “Suicide Dream 3”) the EP proves that the tunes were there all along. These bright, string-swollen re-recordings reveal how harmonically rich those Love Remains songs were under all their static—it’s a marvel, in retrospect, how Krell condensed such oversized melodies into such scruffy recordings.
Krell didn’t conceive Just Once just to set the record straight about his songwriting, though. He also designed it as a showcase for his voice, which is a curious decision, since his isn’t the type that’s flattered by being front and center. He wails in a gaunt falsetto that’s continually stretched just past its range, and the effect is something like Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne singing Prince in the shower. Krell’s songs may not have needed Love Remains’ cloudy treatment, but that album was wise to hide his voice in the shadows.