DIIV’s leader and main songwriter Zachary Cole Smith stated that the band’s 2016 record Is The Is Are was an album about addiction and getting sober at the time of the record’s release. Though it turned out that was not the case, as Smith stated in an interview a year later. Smith was still very much an addict and using, still struggling while singing songs about getting better. An addict is always an addict. Some just happen to be long term sober.
After a year of rehab and a sober living house, Smith emerged truly sober and ready to make good on the record he tried making before. That record is the dark and heavy Deceiver. Deceiver leaves behind DIIVs famous jangle and airy shoegaze spaciousness for bruised riffs and dark psychedelia. The results are a sonic trial by fire that’s as heavy as it is emotionally therapeutic.
DIIV fleshed out most of their new long player while out on tour with Deafheaven, which may play a part in how heavy this record turned out. It carries with it a raw nerve pain that only overdriven, spidery guitar lines and Smith’s sleepy vocals can convey. Sounding less like label mates Beach Fossils and Wild Nothing, the band have adopted a more fuzzed-out dirge sound. A mixture of Nothing, Whirr, Catherine Wheel, and My Bloody Valentine. Deceiver sounds as if it could be DIIVs Loveless.
“Horsehead” walks us into the heavy, slow-motion exorcism of recovery. “I’ve seen/The middle of five foot/Airtight walls and/I’ve told/The setting sun a joke/He laughed his head right off” Smith sings over a melancholy refrain. It’s a stark but engaging way to open the album. “Like Before You Were Born” echoes a bit of the old DIIV with its airy verse, before the chorus explodes into a wall of guitar squall. Single “Skin Game” has the vibe of Sonic Nurse-era Sonic Youth, had Sonic Youth been influenced by early REM. Vocally it harkens back to DIIVs Oshin. “Fighting to get through the door/But I can’t live like this anymore” is a crushing plea for help. That line’s melody is reminiscent of Lush’ “For Love”. “Taker” has a slow motion feel to it, and the vocals have a Blue Oyster vibe to them.
Deceiver goes dark and heavy, but it’s never a downer. Despite the psychedelic shoegaze vibes, there’s a feeling that these shadows are necessary in order to truly appreciate the light. Zachary Cole Smith sounds honest and humbled here, giving into the pain of rehab so that someday he can sing songs of recovery with a true honesty.
DIIV seem to have gotten back on track and have made the record they needed to make. Deceiver is heavy, both musically and lyrically. Shoegaze guitar squall intermingling with Smith’s earnest lyrics make for one of the best records of the year.
8.2 out of 10