New band of the day – No 894: How to Dress Well

Tom Krell tweaks and tailors R&B to deliver diaphanous indie-soul kitted out in gorgeous melodies

Hometown: Cologne/Brooklyn.

The lineup: Tom Krell (voices, music).

The background: It barely needs repeating, although we always feel the need to do so on a Monday morning after a weekend of ghastly X Factor passion-play: the best singing isn't a matter of bellowing but billowing, as in the effortless exhalation of smoke. With the entrants on that repulsively watchable programme, the emphasis is on straining to reach the notes, on grandstanding and showboating, and the prioritising of the voice above the music, the production, even the song, whereas the best stuff being made right now is about merging vocals and music to create a hazy, blurry, atmospheric fug of sound, to the point where it's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

There was a lot of blog chatter a while back in response to an article by the Village Voice's Sacha Frere-Jones about the lack of dialogue between black music and white, but in fact there is a great deal of confluence these days between the two worlds. It is hardly pushing it to find things in common between the finest recent hip-hop records – the sweet'n'sorrowful synth-rap of Kanye West's 808s and Heartbreak, the-Dream's Love and Money and Drake's Thank Me Later, music so keyboards-heavy and so into expressing its emotions you could call it "keymo" – and all the slow and spacey music being made in the name of glo-fi, chillwave and witch house.

As though to prove the theory, here comes Tom Krell alias How to Dress Well, whose very project is to tweak and tune, phase and pitch-shift, reverb and ever so beautifully ravage post-Thriller R&B, from Michael Jackson himself (whose track Baby Be Mine he looped and lusciously lacerated on his recent single Ecstasy With Jo Jo) to the late-80s swingbeat artists he grew up listening to, such as Keith Sweat and Al B Sure!, loathed by many as the ultimate in oleaginous macho posturing but in whose glistening surfaces and gorgeous melodies he caught a glint of the divine as a child. "I really love 90s R&B," he says. "It's not a joke to me. Twisted by Keith Sweat is a fucking masterpiece." These days, Krell worships Kanye and the-Dream ("My dream is to have the-Dream appreciate my melodic sensibility") and, although he operates using budget equipment, lo-fi is a matter of practical consideration not aesthetic judgment: he'd love to work in a proper studio with Kanye.

Meanwhile, here he is, delivering his diaphanous indie-soul and ghostly, glitchy R&B in an androgynous falsetto so unreal it appears to emerge wraith-like from the mix/mist. He's fantastically prolific, with six or seven EPs of material, and an album ready to go (and all while he's busy translating a book of "post-Kantian philosophy", apparently). We can only find one of those EPs, on iTunes (Ready for the World, the title song about being a kid hearing a man crying through the floor of his apartment after splitting up with his boyfriend), but there are loads of tracks on YouTube, each one more exquisitely ethereal than the last. A whole album of this stuff is going to be mind-blowing.

The buzz: "His lower-than-lo-fi, blown-out recontextualisations of R&B signifiers, carries an air of spiritual mystery."

The truth: Try some of HTDW's keymo therapy, you won't regret it.

Most likely to: Induce ecstasy.

Least likely to: Make the New Band of the Day writer dress well.

What to buy: Ecstasy With Jo Jo is out now on Transparent. The album Love Remains is released on 1 November by Lefse.

File next to: Gayngs, MillionYoung, JJ, Kanye West.


Tuesday's new band: Awesome New Republic.


Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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