Deceiver is the sort of album an underground band in the ‘90s would make as they jumped to a major label
Deceiver is the sort of album an underground band in the ‘90s would make as they jumped to a major label. In DIIV’s case, personal and personnel troubles inspired the band to reassess their sound and push it to the next phase; the production is bigger, the vocals more present, the songwriting bolder and tighter, the lyrics more direct. The band even shook up their creative process and took a more disciplined approach to the album, working collaboratively and touring with the songs before hitting the studio with producer Sonny Diperri (another first for the band as bandleader Zachary Cole Smith had previously insisted on producing by himself).
The new approach has not dimmed what makes DIIV special. The band still swims in the darkness of guilt and regret, but the sonic palette they use to explore it has broadened. Instead of the cold, isolated loneliness of debut Oshin, or the twinkly, kinetic drive of Is the Is Are, DIIV have embraced slower tempos and slathered the songs in huge distortion. It’s a heavier sound where dissonance is amplified but not at the expense of Smith’s evocative vocals. Where Is the Is Are was sprawling, the work of a band trying to keep up with an abundance of creative energy bursting to get out, Deceiver is more considered and knottier. They’ve distilled their energy down to a tight 10 songs, each track with it’s own bold declaration of existence. Is the Is Are was like a space ship careening through the cosmos, never stopping long enough to consider the quickly passing stars; Deceiver is the band steering the ship straight into a supernova.
An obvious inspiration for the album is My Bloody Valentine; the album might as well have Kevin Shields listed as a co-producer (producer Sonny Diperri even previously worked with MBV). “Like Before You Were Born” sounds as though it was lifted straight from Isn’t Anything and “For the Guilty” uses an MBV riff as a launching pad to a song about the difficulty of forgiveness. Initially, this can be annoying, especially in conjunction with the many other obvious ‘90s influences DIIV has internalized. For the most part though, DIIV isn’t content to let those influences do the heavy lifting. In the case of the stellar first single, “Skin Game,” it’s a perfect marriage of late-era Sonic Youth and DIIV’s gorgeous harmonies while album opener “Horsehead” marries the grunge crunch of Smashing Pumpkins with a Slowdive melody.
Overall, Deceiver works best when DIIV steps out of its comfort zone. While tracks like “Blankenship” and “Between Tides” are excellent examples of what DIIV does best, the real revelations are songs like “Taker” and “Horsehead.” They take DIIV to new places without abandoning the band’s core strengths. The album pummels along with only one late stumble—“The Spark” sounds like a B-side with an inexplicably cheesy guitar lick lifted straight from the theme song to a TGIF sitcom. It all leads up to the massive and stunning closing song “Acheron,” a perfect encapsulation of the record: a masterful mix of swirling MBV guitars, black metal lyrics about addiction, and Gish-era Smashing Pumpkins intimacy. It is the sound of DIIV simultaneously taking ownership of their past and future.