By Jacqueline Sun
The Anteroom from How To Dress Well paints a desolate picture of human beings and the space they occupy in the world. It’s a dark, gritty, experimental electronic album – the noisy, mechanical sounds contrasting with Tom Krell’s alt R&B inspired vocals. Interestingly, The Anteroom is one of those rare albums that sound better as it goes on. The earlier tracks are more experimental, almost disturbing in their weirdness. The latter half becomes more danceable, almost pop. The track “Nonkilling 6 | Hunger” is an R&B track with an electronic dance flavor, sounding more fit for a club. It features the most singing and a simple backing track. Similarly, the closer “Nothing” is a propulsive, forceful dance track. Krell’s vocals are masked under a vocoder and underlying the dynamic drum beats are animalistic screeches and electronic scratches. It’s catchy, yet disturbing, which is a theme throughout the album. It’s certainly not “pleasant” to listen to, but there are certain elements that compel you to continue listening.
According to Krell, The Anteroom was intended “to sound like the insides of bones that are turning to embers.” Disregarding the absolute pomposity of this description, the record does an excellent job of capturing two competing aesthetics. One is the seedy, underground dance rave painted by the distorted, glitchy electronic noises. The other is the sensuous, visceral, warm humanity of his voice. He croons “I only feel pain when I’m holding on, when I’m holding on / The social fabric keeps me from being naked with God” over muted, avant-garde mechanical burbles.
The effect is a well-crafted, extremely intentional record, and I actually think the album suffers as a result. There’s something a bit too perfect, a bit too deliberate about The Anteroom. Krell’s vocals are beautiful, even transcendent at times, but it doesn’t contain the necessary emotion and thrust to carry the album. It sounds as if Krell’s voice wants to make a certain album, but the music is going in the entirely opposite way. His voice doesn’t believe what it sings, as if he’s not convinced by his own music. The track where he works the the best is “Brutal | False Skull 5”, where the instrumental sounds in line with Krell’s vocals. The strings lend an organic element to the otherwise spotty and strange instrumental. It gives Krell’s vocals enough weight to balance out the weirdness of the backing track.
That said, the album is an enjoyable listen, and if nothing else, a unique one as well. Tom Krell has managed to carve out a distinct sound in a sea of alt-electronic, experimental music. It’s well done, and relatively accessible, especially for those interested in diving into the genre. However, don’t expect an uplifting experience; it’s all desolation from here.