An exclamation point is meant to grab your attention, to break the mundanity of a sentence and alert you to its importance, to shout rather than mumble. If Chicago four-piece Deeper had called their newest record “Careful,” that would’ve been one thing, but they called it Careful!, and I think that distinction is important. This being their third record, Deeper have established their post-punky, indie-rock sound quickly and efficiently and, more than anything, it relies on commanding your attention and keeping it. “Careful” would have been a record that wafts through the air hoping to slowly seep into your consciousness; Careful! is a record that hurdles toward you at breakneck speed, clear mission in mind. Deeper knew which record they wanted to make.
“Does it feel good when you’re listening to this song? Does your body want to move with it?” These are questions frontman Nic Gohl has said served as Careful!’s north star, an admission that Deeper is more interested in reaction than inspection, in mood rather than specifics. That’s not to diminish the seriousness of the endeavor. On album opener “Build a Bridge,” Gohl sings about finding the right kind of rhythm as if nothing could be more consequential. And, more often than not, Deeper does find the right kind of rhythm. My listening notes for this record are littered with some variation of “great riff” or “cool beat,” which, while not great criticism, is the kind of visceral reaction they seem to be searching for, one that resists flowery descriptors and embraces moving feet and banging heads—pure titillation.
Finding where Gohl’s vocals fit into this mix is a bit more complicated. Resisting the kind of icy detachment that categorizes a lot of post-punk of this variety, Gohl instead floods each line with a distinct emotive tension, every moment threatening to reach the breaking point. That doesn’t mean they always land with the same weight—songs like “Sub” or “Fame” search for perspective, but instead read like a running list of non-sequiturs sutured together. Yet this kind of driving post-punk has never been music that invites narrative. Lyrics are often, as they are throughout Careful!, one part of a propulsive whole, not meant to rise above the aura of the thing. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that one of the more exciting songs on the record, “devil-loc,” forgoes vocals entirely in favor of high-wire instrumental experimentation.
If there’s one moment Gohl and company undercut this idea it’s on the album's finale. “Pressure” is as exciting structurally and musically as anything on the record—sharp and dynamic with riffs-aplenty—but finds an ability to blend that with Gohl’s more personal lyricism, in which he sings of a partner able to help dissolve the pressures of everyday life. This frayed nerve of a love song is an exclamation point, sure, but it’s not drowning out the sentiment at its core, making for a high point and proper punctuation to Careful!’s track list.