Aldous Huxley died in 1963. His Brave New World envisioned a future where, thanks to government control, peoples’ lives are free from pain but devoid of meaning. What could he have imagined if he’d lived to see 2020? What might he be doing at this very moment? Would he be hunkered down in his apartment, panic-buying pasta and toilet paper and googling how to make DIY hand sanitizer? He’d likely feel just as uncertain as we do — not just physically detached, but emotionally. Because despite our best efforts to stay calm, the world is on fire. Just because it’s not fiction on a page doesn’t mean our present dystopia is any less real.
Like all of us, Chicago four-piece Deeper are trying to make the best of these trying times. Their new sophomore record, Auto-Pain, was created well before the Great Detention, but it couldn’t feel more relevant to right now. In Huxley’s world, soma is the drug that erases all feeling, but “auto-pain” — the band’s own term inspired by the book — is the opposite. Its user feels everything, everywhere, all the time. It’s a lot like watching the news these days, or scrolling through the swarm of random takes on Twitter.
Luckily, Auto-Pain (the record) is a bright, exhilarating blast of hope. Like a vigorous cleanse for the anxious mind, it puts a vast array of emotions — grief, mortality, apathy, friendship, faith, and ultimately, resilience — on full, unbridled display. Radiant opener “Esoteric” introduces the album’s palpable sense of urgency, as prickly riffs guide existential queries like, “Is it any wonder I feel so grey?” Drums snap and shake, the bass grinds and grooves. By the track’s end, guitarist and singer Nic Gohl has aged considerably. “Is it any wonder I feel so old?”
Auto-Pain marks a mature and expansive progression for Deeper, who released their self-titled debut in 2018 and have toured the world extensively since. Identity is key to the band, both their firm roots in Chicago’s indie rock community and the heritage of drummer Shiraz Bhatti, who is half-Pakistani and half-Native American. Bhatti’s elegant, forceful beats, inspired by the sounds of his cultures, serve as a tight backdrop for the record’s flashier moments, like the opulent synths of “Spray Paint” and the hypnotic guitar twirls of “4U.” Auto-Pain offers a bigger, bolder perspective on the band’s signature bendy post-punk, with fresh electronic experiments that flirt with grandeur, but never feel cheap.
While there’s plenty of joy to be felt throughout, Auto-Pain is also tied to sadness; shortly after recording, Deeper lost founding band member and friend Michael Clawson to suicide. While his death didn’t directly impact the making of the record, his guitar contributions remain, and Auto-Pain acts as a fitting tribute, refusing to gloss over complex or difficult issues. “Willing” decries our collective “willingness to ignore” over rhythmic repetitions and emphatic chants. Led by Drew McBride’s propulsive bassline, “This Heat” is an irresistible new wave banger, but at its fiery core, it questions our ability to keep going. Why care about a world that often doesn’t care back? “This heat, don’t you want it?” Gohl begs. “Feels good, but I’ve had better,” he shrugs.
Auto-Pain packs an emotional wallop; it’s both dark and ecstatic, with little in between. The record searches for a fix to life’s more unfortunate aspects, but as we’re all aware, no cure exists. Still, it’s a welcome release, a sprawling, spacious landscape of beautifully controlled chaos. It feels cathartic — good, even — to take it all in. In the coming weeks, as we begin to be more isolated (and perhaps grow increasingly numb to our surroundings) we should resist the urge to disconnect entirely. After all, our capacity to feel is our greatest asset. Yes, we’re trapped inside, but we can still dance, laugh, cry, scream. There’s only so much Netflix you can watch. Soon, the urge to feel will creep back in again. We’re almost there. The future is waiting.