The moniker Deptford Goth had been haunting Daniel Woolhouse’s head for a while before he began making RnB inspired music. The words, he says, looked nice together. One EP and two singles later, this convincing debut album gives little context to his ghostly name other than further proving his impressive sensitivity to the feel of language. His lyrics are introspective and delicately delivered, some might even call them muffled, tumbling out like those of The xx’s Romy Madley Croft before melding with the background. Entire sentences are often lost to warm synths and echoes: ‘don’t know where you are, just backgrounds floating’.
But Life After Defo is not a sparsely ornamented soundscape. Three tracks in, you learn it’s just as likely to leave the quiet places of the mind and blossom into a blood-warming ballad. Take the glittering synths, which sound as if they’ve been sampled from something by The Brothers Johnson, and which herald the not-so-sedated disco sentiments of ‘Feel Real’: ‘I wanna dance like her, like nobody’s watching, when nobody’s watching’. In the latter half, ‘Years’ captures both these extremes, but is played out by a glass harmonica suggestive of a cheery whistle – a self-affirmation.
Deptford Goth is unafraid to introduce new layers at any stage of a track, with slices of choir song, computer bleeps, claps and plucked strings being thoughtful additions. After all, this album isn’t interested in creating empty space for lost souls to wander in. With lines like ‘next one isn’t far, keep tight to many people’, the protagonist has some hard-won knowledge to impart and it’s got nothing to do with Daniel’s having formerly been an assistant school teacher. If you can’t make out the words, the cadence of his voice in the closing track, set to a rosy chord progression, is enough to know Life After Defo is about moving forward.
Overall, the transition from despair to hope is a tricky concept, but stand out tracks ‘Guts No Glory’ and ‘Union’ mean this narrative of change undulates rather than sputters. Other moments are distinctly meditative and cause the momentum of the whole to sag. The half-uttered snatches of verse in ‘Deepest’ are a little awkward and its gloomy, off-kilter chorus sticks to the safe territory of nowhere in particular. Then again, if you’re invested in the sound of transition and all the emotional complexities it involves, in the multi-tonal in-between, perhaps you wouldn’t mind this momentary indulgence.
What’s certain though, in the final minutes, Deptford Goth picks up the pace and pulls himself together, says ‘I can’t hold you forever’, and draws his breath in preparation for the next chapter – hopefully it’s as mesmeric as the first.By Steven Roberts