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How to Dress Well, smartly dressed 

Tom Krell’s intelligent pop at Hi-Ho Lounge on Oct. 9

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There is a tendency to regard pop music as intellectually inferior, a bubblegum-smacking airhead of a category. When pop is perceived as smart, it typically comes covered up in effects and tricks, prefixed by excusing qualifiers like "alt" or "art." Starting out as How to Dress Well, Tom Krell — probably the only pop singer working on a dissertation about combating nihilism — did everything a musician isn't supposed to do to pop: cut it up, loop it, shift its pitches, bury its hooks, preface it with excerpts from Todd Haynes films. His debut Love Remains is a lo-fi watercolor dream about pop (specifically last-century R&B), its lines and tones spattered with teardrops. On Total Loss, the clarity and craft improved as monumentally as the mood worsened. By the opener of 2014's "What Is This Heart?" — a creeping weeper called "2 Years On (Shame Dream)" — there was every reason to believe Krell had flushed his pop ambition and was circling a bummer spiral. Instead, it was a ruse — a sort of test, Krell said in a recent interview with Vice, designed to make listeners earn the intense, genre-plumbing pop pleasure that follows. He also calls it a mistake, one he set out to rectify on the new Care (Weird World/Domino), which opens with a heated sex jam ("Can't You Tell") and only gets warmer. A production chameleon and emotional coming-out party, it's Krell's philosophy doctorate set to Phil Collins' drums. Ex Reyes opens. Tickets $15.

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