Favorite Tracks: “Like Before You Were Born,” “Skin Game,” “Between Tides,” “For The Guilty,” “The Spark,” “Blankenship”
As someone who moved across the country at a young age, I have seen a lot of things in my life come and go. In our unattentive time, bands are more like seasons than enduring establishments. One of the few bands that has been there for me through all of it is DIIV. DIIV very much feel like my rock band; seeing them live opening for Unknown Mortal Orchestra the summer before I started high school and a couple of months before OSHIN dropped changed the way I approached making and loving indie rock. I remember talking to Zachary Cole Smith between sets at the DC venue Rock and Roll Hotel and comparing their sound to Sonic Youth’s self-titled no wave record while my mom watched from 10 feet away, trying to make sure that no one gave me drinks or cigarettes. I can vividly recall logging onto Pitchfork in between songs at a cold winter band practice in my basement and reading that Smith had been arrested for heroin possession. I was as concerned for him as I would have been for a friend in the same position. IS THE IS ARE came into my life when I was in a vulnerable place and stayed on repeat for years after. DIIV are one of the only bands that I’ve listened to every day of my strange, liminal life, and I love them about as much as any human is capable of loving a musical artist.
DECEIVER is DIIV’s first record as a Los Angeles-based band, and those West Coast influences make themselves shamelessly apparent. Whereas the group’s previous endeavors fit comfortably alongside their Captured Tracks labelmates, DECEIVER sounds more like the darker artists who began making music in the wake of DIIV’s success. Listening to lead single “Skin Game,” I was reminded more of Milly or Orchin than I was of Beach Fossils and Wild Nothing, and this progression feels healthy. The 285 Kent scene that DIIV came up in has long been dead and all of the artists who defined what indie rock would mean in the 2010s in pre-gentrification Brooklyn have either moved to Philly or Los Angeles at this point. By switching up coasts and releasing a record that sounds more in-tune with the current scene, DIIV manage to avoid rehashing their first two albums. DECEIVER shows Smith writing more developed songs and working collaboratively with his bandmates during his creation process; OSHIN and IS THE IS ARE are wonderfully looped collections of wide-eyed one-liners, but DECEIVER is a set of actual songs. It’s an odd change-up, and initially off-putting in contrast to DIIV’s repetitive simplicity, but the new set of tracks clearly have heart and the change feels authentic and justified.
DECEIVER ultimately plays like an apology. In the days leading up to the album’s release, Smith shared emotionally transparent Instagram posts about how the record pertained to his sobriety and fragile mental health. Although the addiction narrative often overshadows the band’s music to the point of becoming distracting, DECEIVER is actually the first DIIV record released since Smith quit heroin and it begs to be approached as such. On “Skin Game,” the line “Strung out to please the king / In Metropolitan’s Sackler Wing” is more of a thematic analysis of the impact of the opiate on American bureaucracy than any of the drug-addled content on prior releases. Smith’s lyricism is more worldly and less selfish than on OSHIN or IS THE IS ARE, and there is a palpable darkness that lurks in the record’s corners. When he sings the line “I should have treated you better” on the KID A-meets-MICROCASTLE no wave banger “Blankenship,” it’s not clear who he’s addressing specifically, but it’s obvious that he really means such a haunting and memorable line. “Like Before You Were Born” has a warm glow to it, but underneath the layers of beautiful fuzz, you can tell that Smith is just trying to reassure himself that everything will be okay by yearning for the womb. It often feels like he is trying to make peace with himself on DECEIVER, and while the sensitivity isn’t hard to pinpoint, it is comforting to find camaraderie in Smith’s bleak soundscapes.
DECEIVER is a distinct change for DIIV, but still fits comfortably in their catalog. It’s a record that has already started to seep into my everyday in the same way that the first two DIIV records did. After the rise and fall of so many of their peers’ careers, it is truly a testament to DIIV’s quality and legitimacy that, even with a tested formula, they continue to put out records that never feel stale or insipid. With a new lineup and a more refined sound in a new city, DIIV continue to be the band that helps me find solace in our weird world and make peace with our indefinite future. Zachary Cole Smith did amazing work in a hellish place, but DECEIVER proves that sobriety and adulthood have only led to giving fans more well-crafted and enduring music than ever before.