To the casual ear, there might not be a dramatic difference between Tom Krell's debut album (2010's Love Remains) and Total Loss, his potent new collection of ethereal hymns. But the close listener will hear some significant distinctions between the two. Their commonalities are apparent: Krell's fondness for '80s and '90s R&B slow jams, his appreciation of "witch house" (for lack of the better term we all hoped would come along by now) production techniques, and, of course, his voice. But whereas Krell's keening, pleading falsetto dominated Love Remains, Total Loss finds him granting the rest of his sonic palette more prominence. The eggshell falsetto is still here — without it, Total Loss would tragically embody its name. But Krell's primary departure is in production. Love Remains attracted — and repelled — listeners with its pointedly lo-fi sound. The album's vocal levels often peaked and distorted as they breached the microphone's comfort zone, creating an impression of instant, inevitable decay and fragility. This distinctive characteristic is conspicuous by its absence; with its sturdier vocals and more evened-out arrangements, Total Loss feels less enticingly vulnerable than its predecessor. There are more prominent divergences too. In its lyrics and vocal melody, "& It Was U" is straight-up NKOTB, while the repetitive piano pattern in "Say My Name" brings Steve Reich overtly into the mix. And "Running Back" has HTDW getting . . . jiggy? One certainly can't fault an artist for growing or changing. But Krell's initial impact carried fantastic breadth and weight, while simultaneously sounding desperate to soar above the clouds. Filing down some of those very rough edges that made for such a thrilling paradox is a perplexing choice — and likely to be as polarizing as his initial decision to leave them in the mix the first time around.
HOW TO DRESS WELL + O F F LOVE | Brighton Music Hall, 158 Brighton Ave, Boston | October 7 @ 8 pm | 18+ | $12 | 617.779.0140