Music, for many of us, is an outlet for the darkness and pain that otherwise might cause us to deteriorate or draw ourselves inward. And that’s true regardless of what side of it you’re on—performing it is an act of catharsis, listening to it either therapy or self-care. As you read this and as I write this, most of the streets around the world are empty, most people are spending the majority of their time indoors, self-isolating as a means of avoiding risk of contracting COVID-19, communicating with others only electronically. And nobody’s going to live shows—they can’t, since every venue right now is on lockdown, and every band has postponed their live activity for the near-term. It’s a time when most of us would benefit greatly from something so simple as being able to hear our favorite bands live, but at the very least we have their records.
Deeper’s Auto-Pain is an album born of anxiety and grief, delivered during a time of even more anxiety and grief. Right now they’re supposed to be on tour, playing the songs from this album to audiences across the United States, but instead the Chicago band’s jittery, gloomy post-punk LP is being released into the world without the luxury of being able to support it and making closer connections with their audience. It feels like a cruel cap on what was a pretty rough road to get here. The title, you’ll note, is Auto-Pain, in part a reference to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, a suggestion of being able to feel every emotion at once and to see what happens when you come out the other side. They already were kind of there; anxiety permeates every corner of this record, the shared stresses and discomforts of the trio being funneled into a dozen tracks of streamlined, cold post-punk. But in the process of making the record, guitarist Mike Clawson left the band in the midst of a harrowing mental health struggle that eventually led to him taking his own life.
It’s hard not to feel that elegiac pall cast over the record, whose textures carry similarities to early Cure records like Seventeen Seconds or New Order’s Movement, an album born of similar circumstances. Singer Nic Gohl’s yelps are often a dead ringer for a young Robert Smith, yet the songs on the album veer from minimalist to maximalist in just a few simple moves. “Spray Paint” chugs with an airy, open scratch, but in its climactic moments sounds like the work of twice as many musicians. The atmosphere throughout Auto-Pain echoes that pervasive feeling of anxiety and grief; the slow-moving “Lake Song” is gorgeous in its airy arpeggios, evoking a chilling, gothic ambiance, while the shimmering riffs of “The Knife” find accessibility and immediacy while reaching into darker spaces. Gohl opens the latter with a cry of “I fucked up!“, and it feels as much like a moment of cleansing admission as self-criticism.
But Auto-Pain even more about that catharsis, that breaking through past the bad feelings and into a cleansing feeling of energizing renewal. A track like “This Heat,” which bears a passing resemblance to some of that namesake band’s more immediate moments, has a compelling drive and urgency that betrays lines like “I feel sick, and so tired.” And the disco rhythms of “V.M.C.” add more momentum and even some genuine fun to a record that’s awash in darkness. When Deeper finally get the chance to get back onstage and the world finally recovers, these songs will feel more like a celebration, but until then, Auto-Pain‘s balance of sadness and urgency is an apt prescription to get us through this scary moment in history.
Label: Fire Talk
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.