No other musical genre pairs well with works of dystopian fiction other than punk. Its rebellious nature and ability to tell the truth at its raw form makes it a perfect avenue to shed light on modern issues. Auto-pain, the second album from Chicago’s trio Deeper has managed just that. Inspired by Adous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’, where people take medication to numb their feelings. Auto-pain looks looks the opposite way, exploring how to cope in a constant state of pain. And in 12 tracks, we take a plunge into its catharsis. Each song explores themes of apathy, loneliness and anxiety with the gut-punching energy of post punk. Deeper has expanded their arsenal with this latest offering, clearing out space for more ambient and atmospheric synth sounds.
“Esoteric” starts with bright riffs and stabby vocals under a backdrop of neon lights and grey weather. The track struts along with its search for meaning as singer Nick Gohl contemplates “Is it any wonder I feel so grey”, sharing insights on a spiraling depression. “This Heat” is one of my favorites, with its blistering progression that courses in like a fever dream. The song builds up in intensity with every section, like an illness about to worsen. Gohl sharply drops the line: “You feel so sick that you broke the alarm / Cause you bottled it in”, suggesting that suppressed emotions are the source of the disease. This theme re-emerges in “Willing” with its somber melodies and soundscapes, carried by the echoing hook: “It’s the willingness to ignore”. “Lake Song” paints a more sinister, foreboding tone. With an elaborate arrangement of strings and synths that would fit well in an art-house horror film. The line: “What’s the point in living this life / ‘cause you’re sheltered / and the walls are caving in” resonates under a thick heavy reverb that will get stuck in your mind for days.
Despite the bleak lyrics and atmosphere, there’s a lot of litheness and versatility that’s in Auto-Pain’s 33 minute runtime. The riff work on “Spray Paint” has a spring in its step that should rile up a crowd on live performances, along with a vocal delivery reminiscent of Bowie’s Under Pressure. “4U” features a piercing staccato riff that eventually explodes in a violent avalanche of drums and spat out vocals. “It’s hard to listen / It’s hard to ignore”, repeats in a tone of frustration. Drummer Shiraz Bhatti and bassist Drew McBride shine their brightest in “Helena’s Flowers”, fueling its plodding yet urgent rhythm. The line “It’s funny how we play these games, don’t trust yourself on Auto-pain” summarizes the whole album. Shedding light on how our emotions cannot be trusted, not with pain overwhelming us.
Deeper’s sophomore album is a step in the right direction. Concept albums like these are always a treat to dive into, as it showcases an artists’ ambition to stretch themselves further towards a unified vision. And with Auto-Pain, Deeper has managed to live up to its name.
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