I’ve known the band DIIV for several years now, and I’m familiar with their shoegazey, hazy, euphoric dream pop schtick. Their third release, Deceiver, defied the ideas I’d had about DIIV — in all the good ways.
Deceiver is the album that inspired me to start writing about music. (Publicly, that is. I’ve been analyzing Springsteen lyrics in my journals in excruciating detail for a long time.) I was first attracted to “Taker,” track number 5, which came up on a Spotify shuffle. I picked my phone up to check what band it was, and I was fascinated to see that it was DIIV. Instantly, I was hooked and I put the album on. I listened as I painted in my backyard on a July night, and I was entranced.
One cannot understand the significance of Deceiver without holding it up to DIIV’s first two releases in contrast. Oshin (2012) came into the scene in the middle of indie’s beach rock phase. Oshin fit right in with its dark surfer/skater dude vibe. Lead singer Zachary Cole Smith’s vocals were drowned out behind distortion and the typical dream pop floaty-ness. This was a great album — it still is — but it isn’t one that you’d listen to for the lyrics. It is an album defined by its quintessential shoegaze aspects, sonic soundscape, and summery essence.
Let’s look at Is the Is Are, DIIV’s sophomore release. This album will always (for better or worse) remind me of Spring 2016, when I was listening to it most. Eighteen year old me spent a lot of time laying in her dorm room bed and listening to psych rock while having a ceiling staredown. This album retained some of Oshin’s sunny feeling, but with a psychedelic twist. Is The Is Are is colorful, euphoric, and poetic in lighthearted ways.
Now that we have the basis for the contrast I’m about to make, we can finally talk about what you came here for. Deceiver is not beachy, nor is it summery, nor is it euphoric. Its lyrics aren’t washed out, in fact you can hear Smith’s words perfectly clear. And they’re powerful. The whole album is really, really powerful in a way that distinguishes it from DIIV’s other releases.
Deceiver, ironically, is more honest than anything we’ve ever gotten from DIIV before. This album marks the end of DIIV’s euphoric brand and ushers in a new era of My Bloody Valentine-esque thrash. Deceiver says, “stop deceiving.” If you used to put on DIIV as some nice background music, this album doesn’t fit in. It goes beyond “pretty” music and reaches something higher, something deeper, and maybe something even better. I know for sure that it resonates more, at least for me.
You can make out Smith’s lyrics, which are impressive, dark, and more than just an aesthetic. On “For the Guilty,” Smith references a “stranger” in his bed, then implies that the aforementioned stranger is himself. His vocal cadence is captivating; I imagine him grabbing my shoulders and singing it straight to me. Deceiver explores the trenches of addiction and the subsequent pain and trauma it comes with. Deceiver is the metaphorical and literal comedown after Oshin and Is the Is Are, and its honesty will comfort and mystify you.