DIIV’s third studio album excels in places the band has never touched before. They’ve always teetered on the precipice of something great, their music was always wonderfully catchy – 2012’s debut Oshin and 2016’s follow-up, ‘Is The Is Are’ were both tip-of-the-tongue offerings – and their projects could have been great if their potential had been fully realised. But fast-forward to their new album and the band is seeing new beginnings. Yes, ‘Deceiver’ forgoes DIIV’s pile-driving wall-of-reverb almost completely, but that’s a good thing.
Crystal clear in production quality, DIIV’s new offering is completely void of the shadowy, inner noise that turned heads in the first place but failed to age well. ‘Deceiver’ marks a significant change for the band’s sound, and what once sounded like a shell of ‘90s shoe-gaze has now become much stronger, fuller, and more alluring. With some of their best lyrics and crispest production yet, ‘Deceiver’ drives forth new beginnings for the band, slipping My Bloody Valentine’s dazzling production-style into the tight, hot suit of Smashing Pumpkins’ post-rock.
While not much has changed in terms of melodic quality, vocals have emerged from behind a thick wall of reverb, this time used to enhance the track rather than carry it. Producer Sonny Diperri and DIIV fill in the gaps of 2016’s ‘Is there Are’ to craft a product with a clear-cut, artful balance between post-punk and dream-gaze, and for the first time focuses on lyrics as something part of the song rather than something extra.
But, it’s the songs that flirt with the heavier side of rock that are the real harbingers of triumph here. ‘Horsehead’ is a stunning career-bender, starting off the album strong with vivid, almost delirious energy. ‘Like Before You Were Born’ is similarly enticing— tight, crisp, and straight to the point, with enough flowery wordplay to lift listeners up to that fuzzy, hazy place, but not getting irreparably lost in it. And the true heavy-hitters come even later in the track list: ‘For the Guilty’ is a great mid-tempo rocker that keeps no secrets in its lyricism. The heavy wall of guitars break through the haze, but with a gentle hand. The choral riff of ‘The Spark’ is like no other - nothing on the album compares to the euphoria of those few notes that could be a song alone.
With ‘Deceiver’, DIIV have evolved in exactly the right way. It’s what ‘Is There Are’ could’ve been with just a little outside help, and just a little more direction. Since the band’s inception they have been plagued with challenges, the band as a whole has seemed quite lost, and dare I say: you could hear it in the music. But, to DIIV’s credit, they’ve always found it in themselves to pick up and keep going, so naturally, that is exactly what this album has done yet again.
Where the core elements of DIIV (reverb, 808 drumming, shadowed vocals) were scattered disproportionately throughout ‘Is The Is Are’, ‘Deceiver’ allows these elements to work together in concert, delivering a shifting, shining number that’s winding, but not dizzying. This new album sees the band at their strongest, both emotionally and melodically, yet still feels uniquely DIIV - not compromising the band’s fascinating relationship with the darker side of their feelings. It’s exactly how a band should evolve.
However, none of the songs take much risk, nor do they ever push far beyond the confines of ‘90s haze. There is the occasional rock-driven track, and you can hear some post-punk influences in quite a few choruses – ‘For the Guilty’ and ‘Skin Game’, for example – but as a whole the album finishes with much of the same tones it began with. Seven-minute long ‘Acheron’ is almost jealous of ‘Taker’ – with much of the same chords and similar-sounding vocals, it’s a wonder these are separate tracks. It’s like DIIV have finally found their comfort zone, but it would be good to see them push against it.
Simply put though, ‘Deceiver’ is a rebirth: one that reflects both the personal growth of lead singer Zachary Cole Smith, and the maturing of the band as a whole to deal with the turmoil around them. It brings the friendly, familiar sound of a bygone time without begging for the clocks to veer into reverse, and clings to ‘90s noise-pop with the gentlest possible grip. It’s a show of strength too, proving the resilience of the band – sometimes letting go of dead weight is the only thing that will save you in the long run. And when the hardest part is learning to start over after letting go, true hardiness is being able to roar back after a trying few years. And DIIV have done just that.
Words: Valerie Mangan
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