Whether it's Holly Herndon's "paradise politics" or Jam City inviting us to Dream A Garden, political optimism has recently become a meme in underground pop music. Krell's take on this is Care—a word which cropped up repeatedly when writing lyrics for his fourth album. The finished record shakes off the last vestiges of his weepy bedroom R&B sound, revealing something brighter, bolder and more direct.
All the better to deliver his optimistic message, right? Actually, it's not so simple. Krell gets most political on "They'll Take Everything You Have," an emotive torch song in which he declares 2016 to be the year "we fell off the globe." The song builds to a towering climax, before subsiding into a delicate coda. But Krell doesn't give us the hopeful parting message we might have expected—quite the opposite. "If you hold onto something that they can't take to pay your debt / They'll destroy that when you're dead, leave no trace you ever lived…"
Care is full of these sorts of gaps: whether between lyric and music, as on "Anxious," a jarringly chipper song about social media addiction, or between intent and delivery, as with the plasticky angst of "The Ruins." The album's guiding emotion is the joy Krell talks about, but it's half-lost in a chaos of other moods, ideas and flashy arrangement tricks. Brief moments of sweetness give way to overblown guitar solos; blasts of post-FKA twigs electronica meet cute teen-pop choruses. Then there's the straight-up kitsch: "I Was Terrible," with its hints of The Killers' "Mr. Brightside"; the secret closing track, which opens with the cheese-tastic couplet "Help a child understand its sadness / This is a song that I thought I should sing."
Every now and then Krell delivers a focussed pop song. The best, like the open-hearted "Lost You / Lost Youth," work their way steadily into your affections. But for each convincing moment, Care throws up a baffling one, as when Krell recounts a dream partway through "Salt Song." He meets a toddler version of himself, who tells him, "This is the feeling of real human dignity." The line is haloed in reverb, as if to highlight its profundity, but god knows what it means. Actually, maybe this isn't such an inappropriate moment. There's a dreamlike logic to much of Care: it's atmospheric, but it doesn't make sense.