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DIIV - Deceiver Music Album Reviews

The shoegaze band’s third album is another portrait of addiction and recovery, but this time there’s no suggestion of a victory lap. The lyrics may wallow, but the music soars.

Just a year after DIIV released its sophomore album, Is The Is Are, frontman Zachary Cole Smith conceded it was predicated on a lie. That record purported to be a portrait of addiction and recovery, a tidy narrative culminating in “a light at the end of the tunnel,” but recovery is never as easy as merely willing it, and in truth Smith says he hadn’t committed to sobriety, let alone mastered it. In hindsight, the album’s messaging “really trivializes what people go through,” Smith apologized in a 2017 interview. “Getting sober and staying sober is fucking hard.” He spent much of that year in inpatient treatment, living in rehab facilities and a sober living house, coming to terms with the reality that the light at the end of the tunnel was more distant than he admitted.

In a sense, then, DIIV’s third album Deceiver is a do-over, an atonement for a record that, while a triumph on a technical and artistic level, didn’t get the truth right. Like its predecessor, Deceiver is a portrait of addiction and recovery, but this time it’s not quite as tidy, and there’s no suggestion of a victory lap. It plays like the last record’s darker shadow. As with every DIIV album, it sounds timestamped from the year that punk broke, but the mood is heavier, louder, queasier. The guitars jangle less and brood more.

The band workshopped many of these songs on the road with Deafheaven, which may account for some of the newfound muscle, but mostly the bluster feels like a natural extension of Smith’s remorseful lyrics. Over knots of Sonic Youth guitars on “Skin Game,” he offers a more unflinching account of self-destruction than anything on Is The Is Are: “Sunken ceiling and a sideways grin/We lived to use and we used to live.” On “Between Tides” he channels Elliott Smith’s falsetto sigh as he sings of living with shame: “Apologize to all I see/For everything I used to be.”

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Deceiver is trimmer than its predecessor—a relatively compact 10 songs spread over 44 minutes—yet it feels bigger. The luscious shoegaze overtones of the record’s early tracks gradually give way to the creeping unease of Unwound’s autumnal masterpiece Leaves Turn Inside You as Smith's focus turns from the damage he’s done to himself toward the relationships destroyed during “the years I lived in vain, chasing the pain with pain.” In its second half, the record burns hotter and blacker as it stretches toward its seven-minute closer “Acheron,” the dirge that most bears Deafhaven’s influence.

That track doesn't quite go full metal, but the lyrics get close: “Hate the god I don’t believe in,” Smith seethes. “Heaven’s just a part of hell.” It should be too much, but isn’t. Smith spends the entire album flirting with self-hatred, dwelling on lies, guilt, and burned bridges. And yet Deceiver never succumbs to miserabilism—even at their dingiest, these songs radiate with a beatific serenity. The lyrics wallow, but the music soars. For a record about regret, Deceiver is an unbridled pleasure.


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