There is nothing romanticised about the themes of drug addiction and recovery in Deceiver, it stands as a healing wound that harrowingly captures the intrepid odyssey that frontman and songwriter Zachary Cole Smith went through after he proclaimed to have failed in doing so in 2016’s Is the is are.
After having checked into inpatient rehabilitation, Smith apologised for what he believed was an undermining of the task of returning to sobriety. Speaking to The Know during his rehab period,Smith said: “What I did on the last record really trivializes what people go through,” Smith explained. “To be like, ‘Yep! I’m sober! Easy. Here’s a record about that.’”
In contrast, Deceiver paints a very similar image to its’ predecessor but does so with a new-found perspective for the trials and tribulations of climbing back to that light at the end of the tunnel and does so with a much broodier colour palette.
For those unbeknown to Diiv’s work, it’s easier to view Deceiver as a separate entity as while it carries much of the technical prowess of the shoegazing indie rock band it emanates a far darker tone throughout. It’s a record filled with sombre, angelic vocals that float about the soundscape joined by an array of dissonance by shoegazing’s motif of heavy distorted guitars that in some cases – tracks like Horsehead and Like Before You Were Born – overwhelm the vocal track; trust me it’s prettier than it sounds.
Beneath the dread-inducing chugs of the crunching riffs is a wonderful juxtaposition between the power-driven instrumentals and the meanings of Smith’s words. The animalistic power of the strings and drums are layered upon dialogues of addiction cycles and the broader socio-political catalysts behind them (seen in Skin Game) as well as tales of enduring the consequence of destructive decision-making. Fortunately these opposing forces never feel as if they lock horns, both meld together to produce mature and relatable stories backed by some truly epic musical arrangements.
As their first album with an outside producer, it comes across remarkably clean with Sonny Diperri (My Bloody Valentine, Animal Collective) handling the bands’ blend of shoegaze, indie rock and dream pop well. Ben Newman’s drums give a very prominent kick and aids his stellar performance across the LP, while the two guitars provide drastically different moods like the very familiar indie licks in Skin Game and the thunderous plod that opens Taker; it’s certainly a heavier overall take to Diiv’s sound that matches the semantic weight of the lyricism.
It’s unfortunate that for an album that encompasses so many elements of variety that there is a rather distinct element of homogeny that runs throughout. Pushing aside the albums final three tracks – that dwarf the remainder of the track-list from a compositional perspective – songs like For the Guilty, The Spark and Like Before You Were Born may show glimmers of individuality (like the latter’s melancholic chorus) but don’t do enough to save themselves from obscurity. It’s possibly due to the lack of variation within Smith’s vocals, a trait that will be treated like Marmite, but other tracks at least provide the remaining supplementation needed to keep the listener from clicking off.
There isn’t much doubt in mind that Deceiver is an abrasive listen that will put many off on the basis of its style. Find yourself enjoying it and you’ll be enveloped in some of the best written rock of the year with those final three tracks being more than enough to gloss over any uninspired throwaways it may throw at you mid-way through. This is the album that Zachary Cole Smith wanted to write in 2016, now that he has I can safely say it’s pretty damn good.
Words: Alex Mace