Taking music recommendations from friends can be a risky business — especially when that friend has wronged you in the past. Previous recommendations from said companion include nondescript singer-songwriters and aggressively bubbly British pop music. So when she suggested that I check out Deptford Goth’s debut Life After Defo, I was skeptical. Would I again be stuck listening to an album entirely opposite my musical agenda, only to later face the awkward question of how I liked it? My friend’s description of simply “chill electro music” did not do much to pique my interest. Eventually my curiosity got the best of me and I let the album play, only haphazardly listening.
The first time through, I quickly dismissed it as something to be played solely in the background – an ambient listening perfect only for filling empty space. I didn’t find anything wrong with it, but I also didn’t find anything special. This sentiment was reinforced by the slurred vocals, mumbled to the point of melting into the instrumentals. The overall lack of pungent downbeats or crisp notes gave me the impression of a simplicity that didn’t require a closer listen.
It was only on the second and third listens, when I actually began to pay attention, that I realized how very wrong I had been. The flow of each song, and of the album as a whole, started to become clear to me — and it was awesome. Deptford’s vocal delivery no longer came off as half-hearted, but as honest and soulful. The sparse instrumentals suddenly made sense with the lyrics. Oh, how naïve I’d been. The seemingly simple album transformed into something entirely new and dynamic, and I could not stop listening.
While the background instrumentals initially seemed to be comprised solely of synthesizers and intermittent percussion, a closer listen revealed a much higher level of complexity. Using harps, organs and various forms of percussion in combination with the synth base, the overall tone of the album is one of contemplation and uncertainty. The rise and fall of each song backs up these feelings, especially when the lyrical content of love and death is taken into consideration.
Goth’s vocal style could be likened to a sleepy Sam Smith — a touch of R&B without trying too hard. His intentional mumbling is, at times, frustrating but also very impactful. I found that it allowed him to highlight the most important lyrics of each song, even if these lyrics were unclear in and of themselves. Lines such as “Something’s coming and I can’t see what it is…” are common throughout, leaving listeners such as myself to contemplate their meanings and implications. The album seems to peak with “Objects Objects,” a track strengthened by heavy bass tones and standout lyrics such as “As if you’re telling me there is no such thing as heartache / As if you’re telling me we’ll come alive.” Its sound is both sad and hopeful — themes that run through the entire record, both lyrically and musically.
There is something raw and real about this album that is relatable on the most basic human level. Its ambient quality conveys emotion, even without being able to decipher the majority of the essentially inaudible vocals. Aside from these more serious aspects, the record is also just a really cool example of electro-pop.
As I now think so fondly of this album, I regret my initial skepticism. Some of the most interesting art isn’t necessarily easy to dissect or understand on the surface level. I have learned my lesson and will try to keep this in mind next time a friend suggests new music, even if the extent of their recommendation is as simple as “chill electro music.”