Deeper – Careful! (Sub Pop)

With a move to Sub Pop, Chicago’s Deeper do a Bowie and reinvent their sound on their brilliant third studio album, Careful!

Despite the critical success of the 2020 release Auto-Pain, the pandemic arrived at the worst possible time for the band, who thought they’d already processed enough grief in finishing the album following the departure and subsequent death of guitarist Mike Clawson. However, COVID restrictions and forced isolation also provided unexpected opportunities for rebirth. Recorded with producer/engineer Dave Vettraino (Lala Lala, Dehd, Melkbelly) at Palisade Studios, Chicago, Careful! sees Deeper experimenting with their sound, distilling their pop potential into a monumental, dance-oriented post-punk album crammed with more bangers than a butcher’s.

That Deeper sound more confident on this album is justified. You get the sense that they put intense effort into every track. Asking questions like, “Does it feel good when you’re listening to this song? Does your body want to move with it?” while writing and recording certainly makes a difference. Lead single and opening track, ‘Build A Bridge’, was the first product of this new approach, its pop melody undercut with pointed, jittery guitars and blooming synth swells to accentuate the push-pull of Shiraz Bhatti’s drumming. Echoing lyrics from Auto-Pain’s ‘Willing’, singer Nic Gohl affirms “it’s the right kind of rhythm”; an acknowledgement that this more purposeful and decisive new direction is going to take them further than before.

Careful! channels its darkness through insanely catchy hooks and unexpected experimental detours. Forced to adopt a more controlled, introspective approach to songwriting, the band play around a lot more with synths, samplers and drum machines. Its 13 tracks are polished, accessible and ripe for radio rotation. It just seems to get better, not tiresome, on each listen. Gohl has cited Low and “a coked-out Bowie” as major influences and this is evident both in the album’s stylistic breadth and how it confronts personal demons. Gohl’s vocals are chameleon-like, steering a jagged path between Julian Casablancas, Brandon Flowers, Billy Mackenzie and Ian McCulloch. To throw in a few more comparisons, while Gohl’s lyrics are well and truly grounded in 21st-century existential angst, Careful! recalls the mood and textures of The Associates 1980 album The Affectionate Punch, (the one with Robert Smith‘s backing vocals).

With its Disintegration era Cure guitar chime and chunky synths, Single ‘Tele‘ swoons its way through the sickly heat of a smoky, strobe-lit goth club. The motorik-propelled ‘Bite‘, similarly twitchy and clad in black leather, crescendos into a jubilant chorus reminiscent of Franz Ferdinand. Deeper scratch their ambient experimental itch on ‘Heat Lamp’, ‘Pilsen 4th’ and ‘devil-loc’ – instrumentals that neatly signpost shifts in mood and direction on the album. They experiment further on the pivotal track ‘Fame’. Confronting the blackest human emotions in the accompanying video, they use the Wendigo (a mythical creature from Anishinaabe folklore) as a metaphor for selfishness and gluttony. The unsettling off-kilter beat stumbles to find its place among chaotic bursts of saxophone, building tension and a sense of dislocation as ‘Fame’ steadily ramps up its spiralling, self-destructive mantra. Elsewhere, standout moments include the uptight theatrics of ‘Sub’, a track that almost didn’t make the cut (reinvented with a faster tempo and different dynamics) and ‘Everynight’ which grows from its Television-like guitar hook underpinned by The Cars synths into a psychedelic meltdown.

The shift away from the jagged edges and emotional numbness of Auto-Pain is notable in the last couple of tracks, ‘Dualbass’ (presumably named for its use of two bass guitars) and ‘Pressure’, a song Gohl wrote for his wife. ‘Pressure’, a surprisingly uplifting close-out, marries up all of Deeper’s complex moving parts: a dreamy bass groove, tensely suspended guitars wrapped in punchy rhythms and fuzzy vocal harmonics. “Be safe” Gohl sings, “I will need you around when I can’t see the lines in the road”, ultimately condensing what Careful! in all its restlessness and invention is about – as bassist Drew McBride says, “looking out for one other.”

Careful! is released via Sub Pop on 8th September.

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