Deptford Goth may sound like the chat room name of a socially marginalised South London teenager desperate to engage with fellow outsiders, but the man behind the moniker, Daniel Woolhouse, has little in common with acolytes of black eyeliner, Victorian lace and The Sisters of Mercy.
Instead, Woolhouse proved on his 2013 debut record Life After Defo that he is a skilled exponent of that still rare commodity; electronic music with a warm, beating heart. Following hot on the heels of critically worshipped fellow metropolis residents James Blake and The xx, Deptford Goth’s sound is in many ways similar to both, yet still with its own identity. Life After Defo blended hushed, sombre shades of exquisite soulfulness with glimpses of optimism, even joy to create an ambience that was mellow yet strangely uplifting. With follow up Songs, he not only pulls it off again but raises the bar higher still, to a level where glib comparisons with the aforementioned artists do Woolhouse a real disservice.
The listener is drawn instantly into Deptford Goth’s personal universe with the opening – ahem- song of Songs, Relics. Its softly lilting synths and steel drum-like accompaniment are soon joined by Woolhouse’s tender croon as he implores us to “get slow/the rhythm of life is an irregular thing” with spidery guitar lines weaving webs surreptitiously in the background before taking centre stage as the song reaches a graceful crescendo. Relics sets the scene for the next 10 tracks – with perhaps the most significant development being the increased prominence of Woolhouse’s voice.
Once wary of this aspect of his music, Woolhouse has gone on record saying he is now “more accepting” of his vocal performance, which has led to him to compose in much more of a conventional singer-songwriter style. So while the mood and sound of Songs remain similar to Life After Defo, it’s a definite step forward too.
Relics is part of an early purple patch on the album, with the loveliness of Do Exist following hot on its heels. Muted, sparse and sad in tone, Woolhouse’s falsetto is beautifully vulnerable, with the musical backdrop recalling the less frenetic, subtler work of electronica pioneer Four Tet. The Lovers is brasher, more strident and wounded, with stabbing staccato synthesisers and multi-tracked, ghostly vocals giving it a more oppressive air, but no less compelling.
Later on, Songs arguably reaches its zenith with the swooning loveliness of A Circle, which blends stately piano with wistful trumpet and sees Woolhouse reach new heights as a lyricist, observing “English sunsets trembling before you…realise it’s not a lonely world”. The album signs off as strongly as it started with the slow building, almost anthemic A Shelter, A Weapon, simple yet powerful, with the singer proclaiming passionately “got love/use it like a weapon/if you want me, you can have me ‘til the end of time.”
As an overall piece of work, Songs flows seamlessly, with the consistency in mood and tone and meticulously crafted arrangements meaning not a note sounds out of place. Deptford Goth has succeeded in maintaining the strengths of his debut but has also gained the confidence to express himself with greater clarity, purpose and emotional power. The end result is an album that could propel this seriously talented artist into the consciousness – and record collections – of a far wider audience.