Care starts off with what feels like whatever is remaining of How to Dress Well’s last album, “What Is This Heart?”, with the opening keys of a piano. It’s soft and sets you up to expect Tom Krell’s signature falsetto singing something slow and lush. While the falsetto is there, Krell opts for a new route- something more up-tempo with a swinging chorus and dynamic percussive sounds to create the spirited first track “Can’t You Tell.” It’s something different and leaves the listener savoring for more.
It’s hard to point out what is structuring Care. Is it the R&B grooves, the pop sensibilities, or perhaps a new sound that takes both disciplines to a new level entirely? Whatever it is, the album’s result is beautiful. Swirling layers of synth pads, whistles, electric guitar and subtle orchestral elements feel like a sonic kaleidoscope. The production is flawless, innovative, but also true to the roots of How To Dress Well. Jack Antonoff helped produce the album and his presence is felt, with most of the album being laced with 80’s elements and almost every other song having an electric guitar featured in the outros.
Krell sings about a lot of the classic themes: love, hope and anxiety. The lyrics are almost cathartic, but the mismatch of the lyrical message and the musical sound make the emotions feel more subdued than cathartic for the listener. Hushed vocals and falsettos narrate the album, which Krell uses to hide the fact that his emotions are so exposed and vulnerable to the world. For example, in “Lost Youth/Lose You” Krell almost sounds like he’s on his knees pleading to an ex lover “Yeah you’re all that I want/ Do anything you say/ I guess there’s no peace in my mind till I’m in my grave,” until he flatly sings “well, that’s great” adding humor to end an emotionally charged song. Then there’s the song “Anxious” with the most relatable line “Why am I so pathetic/ Why am I so addicted to attention/ when all I want is love and affection?” This technique clashes with the heavy production, because while it feels like he’s trying to converse with his audience on a personable level, the music puts space between himself and the listener. How to Dress Well excels with both the lyrics and music, but the combination doesn’t complement each other as well as past project have done.
However, the mismatch is nuanced when appreciating the whole experience of the project. It’s fun, inspiring and bold. Songs like “Salt Song” and “What’s Up” really stand out as fun pop bops without sounding typical. “Made A Lifetime” is profound, and gives free reign to allow the new sound to breathe. All in all, Care manages to surprise and please.