In the perilous realms of the infamous third album, artists often find themselves stuck when navigating these treacherous waters. The shifting tides of the times and their own maturity can leave them creatively adrift. Yet, amidst this sea of uncertainty, Chicago’s Deeper emerges, gracefully sailing through jagged rocks that have claimed many before. Often hailed as America’s best answer to modern post-punk, their self-titled debut album unveiled a world full of Deerhunter-esque post-punk daydreams. Two years and a pandemic later, Deeper not only expanded in size but grew through change, loss, and healing with their sophomore album ‘Auto-Pain’, amplifying the head-jerking anthems of their debut a thousandfold. Deeper haven’t stood still for a second and are back, via Sub Pop, with their now-third studio album, ‘Careful!’. It’s a bigger, bolder, and much darker hole than Deeper have ever dived into before.
Recorded at Palisade Studios with help from producer/engineer Dave Vettraino, ‘Careful!’ picks up right where ‘Auto-Pain’ left off. Opener ‘Build a Bridge’, serves as a reminder of why people fell in love with Deeper in the first place. As it oozes with angularity, it reintroduces us to Drew McBride’s and Nic Gohl’s unnerving yet hypnotic guitars, which seem to stick to your brain like honey. Where melodies are filled with a palpable sense of anxiety, it is all anchored by the steady rhythmic chugging of Kevin Fairbairn’s bass and the crisp drumming of Shiraz Bhatti. This allows Gohl to soar and dive with his melting vocals, with a sense of urgency and vulnerability.
But as much as Deeper continue to supply us with their Television-laced guitars, ‘Careful!’ explores genres and depths that we’ve not seen the band approach before as they reshape into new moulds and test those limits. Take, for instance, the nauseatingly powerful left-field electronics on ‘devil-loc’, or the vibrant shadows of ‘Bite’. Plunging into the icy cold-waves of ‘Tele’, an interplay of synths that continuously vies for dominance, completely engulfing anything it encounters. There’s no fighting the strength of its current; it’s one of those tracks that you have to close your eyes to, surrender yourself to, and let your body be pulled by the current of its melodic bass. The band states that “‘Tele’ is a song without its shield”, explaining that they “would hide behind jerky guitars and abstract vocals, telling a story only [they] could decipher. With ‘Tele’, we wanted to explore the vulnerability behind our music and give focus to the melody and mood of the song.”
This sonic evolution befits a band like Deeper as they prove their multi-dimensional depth, epitomised by standout track ‘Fame’. A track that embodies “the conversations in your mind after feeling you made a mistake, and the thoughts that linger in your head afterward.” As it dances around tension and release, anchored by percussive clap samples and an eerie, repetitive guitar line that foreshadows an impending sense of danger. The hypnotic bones and the dissonant textures fill rooms with dread, creating insanely powerful trances. ‘Fame’, in a sense, feels akin to Squid, with its frantic and chaotic saxophone lines and vocals that move between staggering spoken vocals and frenzied guttural screams.
Within ‘Careful!’ exists a culmination of space, chaos, heavy noise, neon-lit pop, and just pure hip-swinging joy that screams out that Deeper are a band that must be seen live. Even the atmospheric interludes shine bright, with ‘Heat Lamp’ serving as a perfect prelude to ‘Glare’, while the electric ambience of ‘Pilsen 4th’ crackles with sparks of Brian Eno.
As we come to the end of this intoxicating record, we are greeted by the sweetness of ‘Pressure’, a love song to Grohl’s wife. With every lingering feeling of anxiety and pain expelled, guitars and vocals now intertwine into something enchanting. “Be safe,” he tenderly sings, “I will need you around”, unveiling that this restlessly curious, stylistically broad album “is about looking out for one another.”