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How To Dress Well, Swimm At Sayers Club, Wednesday February 25th 2015

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Tom Krell

During a new edition of Red Bull Sound Select at the Sayers Club, I got to discover two bands, new to me but absolutely not to the people around me. How To Dress Well was headlining the night, but the opener Swimm was a good surprise, very fluid and really hard to catch as their moniker seems to tell us. I noticed right away a lot of young girls pressing their way to the front and starting dancing… They obviously already knew the songs and even some lyrics, while I was trying to absorb the band’s wandering sound, extremely dance-y at times, but metamorphosing just when you thought it was at its catchiest height. This is the deal with new indie rock artists, they have heard way too many bands and genres and they may overplay this hydrid game, but it is always interesting when people experiment and don’t fall for trite hooks. However, Swimm has been compared to anybody from Sonic Youth to Girls, U2, Neil Young, the Black Keys,… which seems totally useless at this point.

But one thing was sure, their very cute frontman/singer had charisma and the young girls around me knew that, dancing and stepping on my feet to get closer. Not all their songs had these dance feel though, a few like ‘Beverly Hells’ sounded a bit like these War on Drugs expansive songs, or like a long drive along the California coast at sunset. They even brought some harmonica at the beginning of a song which started with the line ‘Have you seen her’ and continued like a long adventure ending up in a party on some exotic island… Swimm is from Florida but they are living in Los Angeles now, like so many other bands, so we may be hearing their guitar swirls and sun-drenched soundscapes again, and as I thought I had figured them out, their last song was an epic arena bluesy-rocker with a more classic sound but still lots of inventiveness.

How to Dress Well was another gem, and if I am not really into R&B – although frontman Tom Krell would probably argue about this label – their sound and in particular Krell’s voice were quite exceptional. Krell is from Chicago, the band has released 3 critically-acclaimed albums (the last in date, ‘What Is This Heart’ was released last year, ) and the music could be qualified of a sort of cross between alt soul-R&B and electronics, or at least this is my take on funny man Krell’s music.

Funny? Krell showed wearing a very sportive outfit (a white tank and two long shorts), and he seemed much more ready to play tennis than sing his poignant music, but somehow the whole thing seemed to fit his original and lovable persona. If the music often culminated to some insane emotional apotheosis, he constantly cracked jokes between songs and abundantly chatted with the crowd all night long.

Krell has one of these high-pitched voices, with an amazing range which can go into some crazy falsetto mode, just like Active Child’s Pat Grossi,… but I got a strong Michael Jackson vibe, although the music was certainly more church-y than poppy, almost touching the sacred…he was introducing his songs as ‘this is a metal song’, ‘a pop song’, ‘an emo song’, but they were equally coming alive during his passionate and very expressive singing. The talking between songs was turning into a real Q&A and after saying he liked the new Drake album and laughing about his love for gym shorts and tacos, he introduced the very emotional ‘Suicide Dream’ he wrote at one point of his life, after moving to Germany and leaving his friend behind.

Balancing between the two mics in front of him, he had the highest falsetto I have ever heard, and was accompanying his operatic R&B with lively gestures and some jumping, backed up by his band members who were manipulating electronic, playing moving keyboards and strings or even singing back up vocals, and the alt R&B label would really not represent the ambient sonic sceneries, alternately joyous, like during ‘Repeat Pleasure’ or exulting desire or melancholic…There was an instant of complete silence during an-almost-a-cappella-moment, a rare thing to accomplish in a bar, and Krell noticed, visibly happy, and there was a fake encore (since they had nowhere to go to leave the stage) closing the show with another song of the last album, ‘Words I don’t Remember’… If R& B is not my usual music universe, the chilling gravitas and visceral beauty of How To Dress Well’ s soundscapes, transcending genres and navigating between pain and ecstasy, fascinated me all set long, And, the same way I was trying to catch a ray of light on his face to take a decent picture (it was very dark inside the club, with some projections in the background) Krell seemed to be able to find the slightest ray of light in profound human distress, and amplify it with his beautiful voice for everyone’s joy.

A Power
Cold Nites
Repeat Pleasure
And It was You
Suicide Dream 1
Face Again
Set it Right
Words I Don’t Remember

A few pictures here.

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