Since its earliest days, shoegaze has been seen as druggy music, with warped guitars and murmured vocals that suggest altered states of consciousness and prompt adjectives like "narcotic," "woozy," and "blissful" to describe it. As counterintuitive as it seems, using shoegaze to explore the pain that leads to addiction -- and the pain addiction causes -- works remarkably well on DIIV's third album, Deceiver. They first delved into this territory with Is the Is Are, which offered beautiful proof that they could be a functional band in the wake of Zachary Cole Smith's well-publicized substance abuse issues. After that album's release, DIIV experienced more seismic changes. Smith spent half of 2017 in different rehab programs; by the end of that year, founding bassist Devin Ruben Perez had departed. On Deceiver, DIIV emerge from these challenges as a stronger, even more expressive band. Where Is the Is Are conveyed Smith's struggle with recovery in its double-length sprawl, Deceiver gets to the point. Smith's regrets and need to make amends are more eloquent, and more palpable, than ever before. "Horsehead" cradles his remorse in music that spans a delicate piano melody as well as the majesty of the band's cresting guitars seamlessly. Similarly, on "Taker" Smith confronts his demons and those he hurt with a whisper that threatens to be swept away at any moment by roiling riffs. While Deceiver is frequently as pretty as DIIV's earlier work, there's a newfound grit to its songs that underscores Smith's willingness to dig into his trauma. "Skin Game" pits therapy jargon ("I can see you've had some struggles lately") against a larger existential crisis ("You gave us wings to fly/But then you took away the sky") in an ambivalent, angst-ridden swirl; "Blankenship" traces the generational legacy of suffering over a relentless motorik beat and steeply angled guitars. DIIV match this emotional weight with some of their heaviest music; the slow burn of "Lorelei" feels indebted to True Widow, one of the influences they brought into the studio with producer Sonny DiPerri. Just as often, though, they honor frailty in ways that feel real and compelling, as on the lulling yet uneasy "Between Tides." It's also significant that Deceiver is the first album DIIV created, from start to finish, as a band. Just like recovery, making music doesn't have to be a solitary effort, and the feeling that DIIV are better and stronger together resonates on "Acheron"'s bleak catharsis as well as the hard-earned elation of "For the Guilty," where it feels like a great burden has been lifted. On Deceiver, DIIV have done the work, and the results are new levels of emotional and musical depth.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares