Tom Krell cut his first record as How to Dress Well in 2010, back when he seemed to typify the burgeoning movement of indie R&B (read: white guys singing falsetto). At the time Krell and his counterparts James Blake and Justin Vernon didn’t seem to have much pull outside of Pitchfork-concerned circles, but it turned out that their weird, deconstructionist take on R&B proved exactly what the stagnant genre needed. It wasn’t long before the mainstream followed suit: Kanye West collaborated with Vernon, Frank Ocean won a Grammy, Beyoncé made Beyoncé.
Four years on, Krell is back with his third record “What Is This Heart?,” an appropriately heart-on-the-sleeve declaration proving that, whatever the hell indie R&B is at this point, he’s clearly better at it than anyone. That’s not to say “What Is This Heart?” is at Channel Orange level. But it’s damn good, and by no small stretch the best How to Dress Well record yet.
Start with the cover: a bracing close-up of Krell’s face that, in addition to proving his uncanny resemblance to Manu Ginobili, sets us up for just how close he plans on getting over the following 12 tracks. That emotional candor and desire to stretch his voice to R. Kelly-level vocal acrobatics results in some alternately moving and embarrassing moments. But it’s hard to stay cynical in the face of something as sweeping as “Pour Cyril,” as crippling as “See You Fall” or as captivatingly epic as closer “House Inside.”