For Zachary Cole Smith, lead singer of Brooklyn-based DIIV, the word “deceiver” carries a lot of weight. He’s called the optimism heard on their last album, Is The Is Are, a lie. He carried on with his drug addiction until he finally resolved to get help during the band’s 2016 European tour, which was subsequently canceled. Smith’s story is one that those who’ve struggled with addiction know all too well: recovery is hard, and a constant struggle.
It’s in this reality that we’ve received DIIV’s rewarding third album Deceiver. Yes, the band sounds more indebted to their grunge and shoegaze influences than ever. Gone is the glossiness of their previous efforts. We now have tracks like “Like Before You Were Born” and “Between Tides,” which dwell in the guitar distortion that made My Bloody Valentine’s name. Heck, “The Spark” could even pass as a Sunny Day Real Estate track.
Similarities aside, Deceiver succeeds for two reasons. First is the songwriting: for all the shallow shade thrown at shoegaze, the best songs showcase intricate arrangements and unexpected turns. We see this everywhere on Deceiver, particularly on the single “Skin Game,” which starts as tight guitar hook-driven song a la Sonic Youth before cracking wide open. For the first time, all members contributed to songwriting, and the approach has clearly paid off.
Second is the lyrical ambition: listen carefully and you’ll hear these songs blend the personal with the political. On “Skin Game,” Smith references the wealth of the Sackler family, the owners of Purdue Pharma (makers of OxyContin). “Blankenship” also name checks Don Blankenship, climate change denier and former CEO of Massey Energy Company. This call to climate change awareness doubles as a metaphor for Cole: take care of yourself or perish.
We’re now dealing with a different—not new—DIIV. New isn’t the right word, because addicts know fresh starts and second acts don’t come so easily. But we do get the sense that, as people on the road to recovery, the band is more aware of itself. Still struggling, but also learning, and still hopeful.
When he’s not writing about music, Carlo Thomas is a digital marketer who currently lives in Denver, Colorado.