Every album has a backstory, a reason for being. Auto-Pain, the sophomore album by Chicago’s Deeper, goes off-script…
Deeper released their self-titled debut back in 2018. A blend of indie-rock and post-punk, the band toured the record extensively. On the back of this success, they began writing and recording their follow-up. However, during this period, guitarist Mike Clawson left the band due to strained relationships within the group. With guitarist Nic Gohl, bassist Drew McBride and drummer Shiraz Bhatti wanting to continue, Deeper regrouped by adding Kevin Fairbairn. But, while touring Europe, the band received the news that Clawson had taken his own life. With much of Auto-Pain already recorded, the true state of Clawson’s mental health came through in the lyrics.
Pain and healing
Auto-Pain is a bigger, brighter, and more ambitious album than Deeper, despite how it came to be. The lyrical content of the album is juxtaposed with outrageously catchy guitar riffs and song structures that surprise at every turn. Auto-Pain doesn’t slow down for long but when it does, it’s only to intensify a sound or lyric.
Tense throughout, Clawson’s revealing lyrics are everywhere. On opener ‘Esoteric’, Gohl sings, “Is it any wonder, I just can’t say, is it any wonder, I feel so grey”. On ‘Run’ we hear, “Forced to set yourself on fire tonight, you shouldn’t count on, you shouldn’t count on the sun”, and on personal favourite ‘Lake Song’, “I just want you to feel sick, cause you’re better as you’re lying on the bathroom floor”.
These lyrics, and many more like them, give us an insight into where Clawson was at during the writing process. And yet you can’t help but sense a cathartic relief when the words are sung. They throw you, the listener, into a different frame of mind too, which is tricky when you’re nodding along to the beat…
The appeal of Auto-Pain
Perhaps it’s a bland statement (then why say it?), but the undeniable appeal of Auto-Pain is that it does not let up. There are no bad tracks, no two songs that sound too alike, and such a refreshing exploration of sound that at times you think you’re listening to a Greatest Hits collection.
‘4U’, ‘V.M.C.’, ‘Helena’s Flowers’, and ‘The Knife’, all songs appearing towards the end of Auto-Pain, keep the listener enthralled and at times, moving. ‘The Knife’, in particular, with its hold-up-and-go eargasm, deserves its own individual blog post. Ridiculous.
When the last eulogistic note is played, you’re left to assess what it is you’ve just heard. At first, you’ll probably delight in finding your favourite new record, I know I did. But then you’ll go play Auto-Pain through from the beginning one more time, then another. And another. Each time you’ll hear something new, a fresh angle on a lyric or a depth in sound you’d missed previously. Whatever it is, Auto-Pain won’t stop reinvigorating itself until you press Stop. Although I doubt that won’t happen for a long time.
One route of my Auto-Pain research led me to an interview Deeper did with Stereogum. Discussing the title, which was inspired by Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, guitarist Nic Gohl gave an interesting answer that binds the whole story together: “That was from “Helena’s Flowers.” It was kind of a spur of the moment lyric. While we were messing around, I just said that, and then it kind of stuck. “Auto-pain,” the way we think of it is like, we’re on autopilot for depression. The way that the world has been changing throughout the past 10, 20, 30 years, it’s just gotten more gruelling and nothing seems like anything is really getting better. With social media, we’re just bombarded with content after content, and “auto-pain” was just the idea of, you’re constantly being assaulted with it.”
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Photo credit: deeperchi.bandcamp.com