Best Albums of 2013 #1: Deptford Goth – Life After Defo

Though he barely rises above a whisper, on Life After Defo, Daniel Woolhouse makes a grandiose statement. With his debut album as Deptford Goth, Woolhouse explores togetherness and isolation while asking the listener to connect with the music, themselves, and the world around them on a profound level. From the awkward moniker he’s chosen for himself to the use of the word “defo” (short for “definitely”) in the album’s title to even the cover artwork, the project seems easy to dismiss – to do so is to ignore a touching, revelatory musical experience.

At its core a post-breakup album, Life After Defo captures the numbness of heartbreak. In a sense it’s an album of contradictions, with Woolhouse’s cold, vague lyrics providing comfort more than anything else. And perhaps there lies the album’s true strength: through overarching general statements, the songs on Defo provide the framework for the listener to fill in the details. By avoiding specifics, the record becomes not only instantly relatable, but also fitting for a wide spectrum of moods. Life After Defo is an album about heartbreak, yes, but it’s also an album about love; it’s an album about having lost love, but also a reminder that having found it is always better than not – “better to have been with than live without it”; it’s an album about picking up the pieces of a fragmented soul, and an album that teaches that soul to put themselves back together. And as much as it’s an album about being alone, it’s also an album about embracing our collectiveness, and the experiences that unite us as a way of moving forward – “I belong with everyone, everyone I’ve ever known is here, with me”.

Sonically the record is nothing more than “a few guitars, a couple of synths, a piano, various USB controllers, [and a] a laptop” as well as Woolhouse’s hushed vocal, but it all adds up to more than the sum of its parts. The textural backdrops he creates serve to exemplify the stages of heartbreak. The pounding drums on the opening title track feels like a slowing heartbeat at the moment of the breakup. “Bronze Age” is built on a moaning vocal loop, the aching evident. On standout “Guts No Glory”, he sings “want somebody, hold on / want somebody, better hold on to you tight”, as a pair of guitars pierce through the mix, as if offering a lifeline; the jittery drum beat on “Particles” provides the first signs of relief, of growth. The album’s sonic centerpiece and most euphoric moment is “Union”, representative of the moment the world starts opening up. Closing track “Bloody Lip” serves as the culmination, with a slow-building, soaring piano and a chant of “there has never been and there will never be”. Exactly what that is Woolhouse never says, but it’s up to us to fill in the gaps with our story.