Since baring his soul on his 2013 debut, Life After Defo, Daniel Woolhouse has married. The UK producer and singer known as Deptford Goth has a penchant for the bleaker side of pop, and he shows that in spades with his second album, Songs, proving that a happy union doesn’t necessarily result in happy music. But, much like a comedian with a newborn, there’s a wealth of material to draw upon if you’re a songwriter in love. His first record was full of swelling synths and ethereal hooks. On Songs, Woolhouse plays with a number of new techniques, minimizing his subdued aesthetic even further.
Songs like “Dust” are where Woolhouse gets some of his best results for the least amount of perceptible work, with a gentle harp that runs through the track like the lullaby of an old music box. Nestled comfortably next to a simple, charming guitar and piano line, it elevates his vocals to a beautiful level. A voice as refined and stunning as Woolhouse’s does best when it’s not surrounded by clutter. “Remember what you are doing/ Soon we will be dust,” he sings.
Even on such a serene song, Woolhouse isn’t about to become the happy-go-lucky Sam Smith clone that the American pop world would gladly gobble up. He’s brutally honest and poetic in a way that’s supposed to hurt. “The Loop” starts off with a simple beat, almost like someone drumming on the dinner table with utensils, before growing into a delicate, icy ballad with the help of a rising synth line. “A Circle” flashes elegantly with the help of some horns, as Woolhouse’s bewitching vocals reach a perfect falsetto. His comfortable murmur is by far his strongest asset as a musician. Most artists who make their living with their voice can’t get away with mumbling the way Woolhouse does: audibly, but there’s the sense that the singer and the microphone are in two separate rooms.
Woolhouse said that his voice would be much more prominent on this record, but there are still instances where the instruments get in his way. “Relics” starts off with a humming synth and a straightforward drum beat, the kind of musical bed that works so well for Woolhouse’s croon; but, as it progresses, several other ingredients clutter the track. It’s difficult to tell if Woolhouse is unsure of what best accompanies his singing or if he made a conscious decision to add more elements to see how it panned out. Either way: It’s messy. “Do Exist” falls into a similar trap, with too much percussion overwhelming one of the most gentle moments on the record.
Matrimony has changed Woolhouse, and he seems to be alright with that, but he also recognizes that his life is no longer only his. If something goes wrong, he and his wife cross that bridge, not just him. You’d assume this would add some warmth to his music, but that’s not the case. There’s a lot of beauty on this album, a lot of emotions unearthed by love, but Woolhouse relies almost entirely on lyrics to showcase it. The music is slow-burning, staunchly embedded in the chill of a London winter.
It’s tough to get away with hiding such beautiful lyrics in such a cold environment, but Woolhouse pulls it off. His earnestness shines through above all else; he’s a man in love, and he’s still figuring it all out. There’s optimism here buried under a thin coat of snow. Brush it aside to find some sincere, powerful synthpop.
Essential Tracks: “The Lovers”, “Dust”, and “Code”