“One day the day will come when I will settle”, sings Deptford Goth at the start of ‘Relics’, the opening song of his second album, Songs. At least that’s what it sounds like to me. “Deptford Goth” is the opaque moniker of Daniel Woolhouse, an ex-Londoner who makes soulful, R&B-inflected electronic pop songs. There’s an influence of folk too, if only in the degree of personal emotion Woolhouse expresses in his music, drawing on the rhythm of his own life.
Whatever else it is, Deptford Goth’s music is beautiful. It manages to surpass the sum of its undeniable influences – where The xx and James Blake have mastered their own styles of songcraft, Deptford Goth brings something new or forgotten: genuine emotion. Before releasing his first album in 2013, Woolhouse worked as a teaching assistant in a primary school, and was clearly going through a time of emotional difficulty. Life After Defo was a fragile, post-relationship, post-dubstep record full of murmured doubts and beautiful crescendos. If Woolhouse has found his voice for his second album, it seems likely due to finding his feet after the personal issues that loomed over his debut. There are numerous allusions to depression and conquering difficulty, and whilst it would be unfair to treat the album as a guessing game, there are plenty of clues: “I fell down/Things all looked bad to me” Woolhouse confesses on ‘We Symbolise’, and there’s a haunting refrain that comes in the middle of ‘A Circle’ that I won’t spoil.
As well as sounding more comfortable in his voice, Woolhouse is happier to allow us to hear it. The vocals are much higher in the mix and the lyrics are, predominantly, audible. With this comes a more conventional song structure, with choruses and hooks throughout. Whilst obviously not untruthful, the album’s title, Songs, is somewhat misleading: these songs form a cohesive whole, and the album was clearly supposed to be listened to in full. In fact, the choice of singles is a little surprising: ‘Two Hearts’ is not as powerful when not preceded by the existential closing lines of ‘Dust’, and ‘The Lovers’ doesn’t sound like something that would play well on the radio. A more obvious choice might have been ‘The Loop’, a soulful pop song with a seductive groove, filled with almost-profound late-night philosophy.
It’s easy to lose yourself in Woolhouse’s world, especially when listening through headphones. Aching vocals tug your heart over serotonin-releasing peaks and troughs, and gorgeous melodies seem to drift through bleached, cold spaces. The architecture of each song does a lot of work despite being extremely paired down – piano melodies, synthesised bass and simple synth textures play over dreamy beats, and it’s never hard to to pinpoint a sound. The whole instrumentation is simple, ebbing and flowing in intensity only to back up the vocal melodies, occasionally supported by falsetto harmonies. But the music itself is still full of blissful sounds: emerging riffs and inventive pieces of percussion that surprise out of the hazy textures.
It’s hard to criticise such a personal record. There’s a lack of female voices, which is more of a problem in terms of perspective than literally. But that’s no reason this album shouldn’t resonate with everyone, at least anyone with an inclination towards introversion. Woolhouse manipulates sonic landscapes with less precision than perhaps James Blake or Oliver Tank, but the emotional landscapes are gorgeous, helping the music to achieve a sort of melancholic majesty that is unique and sublime. There are fewer ecstatic breaks than on his first album, but Songs feels much more enduring – this is an album that needs to be heard and loved by somebody, and there is no question that it will be.
PHOTO/ Umberto Rotundo