Deeper Try to Find New Ground on Careful!

On the Chicago band's Sub Pop debut, their color palettes have changed slightly but the architecture remains the same

Music Reviews Deeper
Deeper Try to Find New Ground on Careful!

Deeper didn’t need to put an exclamation on the album title for their third release, Careful!; on any album by the Chicago four-piece, the exclamation point is implied. Deeper make post-punk that is high strung and anxious, as tense as a rubber band that’s about to snap. On any Deeper song, the guitar chirps, drum beats and Nic Gohl’s David Byrne-like shriek click into a machine-like precision. The pace is restless; it’s music that sounds like it’s made of concrete and steel. Given their neurotic pulse, there might as well have been an exclamation point on every song in their catalogue.

Careful! is their debut on Sub Pop, and they’ve used their new label as an opportunity to take stock of themselves. Deeper is hyper-conscious of what it means to make music as a group. Opener “Build A Bridge” is a fresh take on a tried-and-true trope—songs about making songs—and it’s a statement of intent for a band reckoning with being a band: “Everyone is sleeping, I’m sold-out on sound / Ominous music, no it won’t let you down / It’s the right kind of rhythm,” Gohl sings, before cueing a drum break with one exclamation: “Now build a bridge!” He’s like a paranoid maestro (again, exclamation point implied). The self-referential metaness doesn’t end there—they use the title of their second album Auto-Pain as a lyric on “Glare,” building a lexicon and connections across their discography. “Heat Lamp,” “Pilsen 4th” and “devil-loc” are instrumental tracks—cold and metallic electronic interludes that sequence nicely into the jittery grooves that follow. All of these details signal the band wanted to make a big statement. They’re trying to level up.

Lyrically, Gohl keeps coming back to the same images—notably mirrors, as if the band is staring at their reflection, picking it apart and constantly self-evaluating: “I looked in the mirror / I backed away,” he trembles on “Glare.” “I saw the mirror / Is this really what you need?” he questions on “Build a Bridge.” Looking is everywhere on Careful!, too: “And when the trouble sets in / No I can’t look back” on “Tele” or “I am blinded/I am seeing things” on “Everynight.” All across the album, the band is considering themselves as they observe and get observed, arguably a perfectly valid response to getting signed to a name-brand indie label like Sub Pop. It builds on the mania of that titular exclamation point. They’re as locked-in as ever and, as a result, they’re even more restless.

When working on Careful! during the pandemic, the band challenged themselves to pinpoint their specific identity: “Isolated by ourselves, we were like ‘What is Deeper?’” drummer Shiraz Bhatti says. It’s an excellent double entendre: The band simultaneously asks, “Who are we as a band?” and “How do we take this farther, wider and, with a bigger scope, deeper?”

And if Careful! is the result of such self-interrogation, then a Deeper song is a maze. These songs tangle and untangle. They smash together tightly-wound instrumentals with Gohls’ amorphic shouting. Lines like “Playful words are meaningless / Cover them with gasoline and pray” gesture towards some kind of profoundness, even though they’re oblique enough to not mean anything at all. For all of its pulsing, four-on-the-floor rock music, Careful! still feels like a thinker. Even if Deeper wanted this album to be their “pop music” record, as Gohl has suggested, the album is coursing with too much dissonance and angularity to land that way. At the same time, it’s that puzzling and vibrative energy that keeps these songs interesting.

Careful! makes an effort to widen the band’s emotional range as well. They sound dark on “Airport Air” and “devil-loc,” bolstered by some menacing drum programming and synth work. “Everynight” has a brightness to it that is distinct from the rest of the album. The project closes with “Pressure,” the closest Deeper has ever gotten to a simple, run-of-the-mill love song. Although, even their love songs are tinged with anxiousness and stress: “Get you someone who kills / All the pressures of my life,” Gohl intones. Deeper have always had a musical connectedness that makes them sound lean and confident, but they seem more comfortable incorporating new elements into that connective tissue now. The synth-work across Careful! adds electricity; a saxophone snarls in between the guitars on “Fame”; there’s a nearly-danceable beat on “Tele.”

And yet, the distinction between Careful! and Auto-Pain isn’t quite the leaps and bounds that the band might’ve promised. The color palettes have changed slightly, but the architecture remains the same. They still sound sharp, brutal and unyielding. Even when they spice up the sound with a new synth, it doesn’t change the emotional bandwidth of the music. They’re digging deeper, but haven’t quite found new ground yet.

Andy Steiner is a writer, musician, and works in the music industry. When he’s not reviewing contemporary albums, you can find him collecting ‘80s Rush merchandise. Follow him on Instagram or Twitter.

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