Sound Bites

Album review: Unearth your innermost feelings with Debtford Goth's debut

This story was first published in The Straits Times on May 9, 2013 

Yearning can be a powerful undertow – psychiatrists call it an inchoate longing for something idealised or unattainable.

Chained to it, humans are doomed to repeat it, forever glad to be sad.

This sentiment is displaced onto smells, tastes, sounds – like munching on a Proustian madeleine and being transported back to Arcadia.

Well, that’s what I could unearth as I surfed the Net trying to make sense of the whirlpool of emotions when I listened to the debut album, Life After Defo, by Deptford Goth, the moniker of South Londoner Daniel Woolhouse.

Neither goth nor actually from Deptford, this 28-year-old former teaching assistant revels in the penumbra cast by converging genres of R&B, electronica and indie rock.

His kindred spirits would be London minimalist trio The xx and New York-based How To Dress Well, aka Tom Krell.

Like Krell, he has a hermetic warble – a manly falsetto you could attribute to the rise of Bon Iver, the American indie-folk band fronted by the similarly hirsute Justin Vernon.

As a music scribe from The Guardian aptly puts it, the Briton belongs to “a sub-genre of lovelorn men understating their emotions to electronics”.

The difference is that with Woolhouse, you sense that he’s on the cusp of revelation, on the edge of a new dawn.

He’s digging deep and excavating innermost feelings, as if attempting to decipher them through a microscope, like a scientist in a laboratory. Just peruse his song titles such as Objects Objects and Particles.

The almost dancey single Union crystallises his bittersweet alignment of confession and emotional discission.

As glacial synths rise and cymbals lash in tandem with the heartbeat, he purrs: “As I’m moving falling lonely, something’s coming and I can’t see what it is, maybe if you’ve got somebody you should let them know.”

Another humdinger is Feel Real, a song which cuts you and gets your toes all a-tingling. “Hold yourself, howl and scream/Finally feel everything joining underneath” – his voice rises in pitch even as he assiduously whispers the words “howl and scream”.

The music recalls James Blake in its deconstructed dubstep bass dips and splintered-glass radiation, but the effect is looser, more agile, less monk-like.

Indeed, the bloke may mope over a broken heart, but the music, icy as it is, envelops him like a blanket. A braid of gently strummed guitar riffs and somnolent bass, it encapsulates the tug of war between reminiscing and moving forward.

It’s a backwards film that tries, again and again, to reach Eden.


Folk pop

SIXTH STREET EP

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Yuna

Verve

***1/2

The heat could be here for months - why not have a cuppa refreshing Yuna?

With her wraparound headgear, the Los Angeles-based Kedah singer may look like Erykah Badu, but she's less likely to hit you with feminist politics.

Instead, as her digital-only Sixth Street EP attests, she's more comfortable exploring the absolute beauty of sound.

Like fellow Malaysian singer Zee Avi, she has an enviable lightness of touch as she flits between R&B and pop and folk.

I Wanna Go is the perfect summery driving song and Mr Musician is a gorgeously strings-laced ballad that hits the real sweet spot when she segues into that dreamy ether.


Pop/Standards

TO BE LOVED

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Michael Buble

Reprise

***

With Michael Buble, you don't quite know if it's all for a laugh. That said, the Canadian neo-rat packer delivers the goods in spades. There's a ruddy machismo that endears him to cougars everywhere.

To Be Loved, a platter of mainly covers and four originals, is orchestrated with such swagger, you can't help but give the bloke a big slap on the back.

He covers The Bee Gees' To Love Somebody and Smokey Robinson's Who's Lovin You with retro-soul big-band pizzazz.

Hey, he even ropes in Reese Withersoon to play Nancy Sinatra to his Frank on the classic Something Stupid. It's cheesy, but who cares?


Pop/R&B

SIDE EFFECTS OF YOU

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Fantasia

19/RCA

***

Hands up those who are still suckers for Fantasia's jaw-dropping rendition of Summertime on American Idol in 2004?

You too? Good. Which is why all should embrace the ascent of the reality show's most unique contestant just as the show is about to crown its latest winner.

There's true soul in her squawk, like Macy Gray but doused with pain.

It doesn't matter whether you bought the album's rock-soul shtick: She gives her all in End Of Me, as the electric guitars wah and the drums pound like judgment day.

And then there's Lose To Win, that self-help testament that comes with a 1980s-sounding bassline possibly cribbed from Don Henley's The End Of Innocence. She's laid out her guts and won't care who tramples on them.


Indie rock

BLOODSPORTS

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Suede

Suede Limited

***1/2

Who would have guessed that Suede - the most louche Britpop band of the early 1990s - would still be alive and kicking today? Bloodsports, their first album of original material since 2002, throws them into the cauldron and it seems they have never left.

Brett Anderson flaunts his limber howl amid the rock squall of Sabotage and Hit Me, like a Dorian Gray who has stared in the mirror and has not aged.

It's both creepy and heartwarming. By the time you come to the last track, the drama-mama confessional Faultlines, you cheer and blubber and do all sorts of things grown men don't do.

kaichai@sph.com.sg