It’s easy to oversimplify the path that recovering addicts must take toward rehabilitation. From the outside, the objective is simple: Stay clean long enough and the monkey on your back eventually hops off. But the reality is that breaking the cycle of addiction is a Sisyphean endeavor that keeps those undergoing it in an eternal state of recovery—only those on the inside can fully understand its tribulations.
Zachary Cole Smith—the central voice behind DIIV—has long been on the inside of addiction. After the group released their sophomore album, Is the Is Are, Cole entered a long-haul inpatient treatment for heroin addiction, a struggle that became public in 2013 when he and his then-girlfriend Sky Ferreira were busted for possession. Cole’s experiences in rehab became the inspiration for the group’s latest record, Deceiver, and while the album displays the group’s darkest sound yet, it also ends up being their most earnest.
While the tracks across Is the Is Are presented Cole’s recovery in a naïve, perceived triumph over addiction, he knows better than to trivialize his struggles on Deceiver. Instead of another blissful smattering of lo-fi shoegaze, the songs on this record are immense—both sonically and thematically. The record’s opener, “Horsehead,” immediately thrusts the listener into a swirl of strumming, overdriven guitars revolving around Cole’s ghostly vocals as he sings, “I want to breathe in / And never breathe back out.”
“Blankenship,” one of the album’s more energetic cuts, feels like a sinister counterpart to their standout hit, “Under the Sun,” from Is the Is Are. The song is named after coal magnate Don Blankenship and has a clear eco-anarchist message against him and his kind: “Destroy those who destroy the earth.” There’s a perfect moment near the song’s end when all sound cuts away to a lone rapid snare roll that ushers in a chaotic blast of energy—this is DIIV at their punkiest.
Unlike past DIIV projects, Cole’s light musings don’t get swallowed up by the music thanks to engineering from Sonny DiPerri, who’s also done work for My Bloody Valentine and Nine Inch Nails. MBV’s influence shows in the guitarwork too, with guitarist Andrew Bailey’s murky pitch scoops coming right from the Loveless playbook on “Like Before You Were Born.”
The wider, dynamic sound texture across Deceiver is one of the most apparent improvements from past records with a clear, crisp approach that avoids sterility. The album’s epic closer, “Acheron,” shows just how much life good production can breathe into a song when it explodes into a gigantic finale of fuzz. The sound matches the scope of blackgaze contemporaries like Deafheaven—who DIIV have toured with—without crossing the threshold into metal. Nonetheless, the lush, sometimes crushing instrumentation speaks to the daunting task Cole has undergone to restore himself.
The heart of Cole’s restoration is carved across “Skin Game,” which underscores the importance of community when overcoming addiction. While the chorus shows Cole placing blame outside himself (“They gave us wings to fly / But then they took away the sky”), he also acknowledges the benefit of confiding in and guiding others in his situation. “I can help you,” he sings, “It’s how I help myself.” Cole later accepts his powerlessness against the torrent of anguish on “Between Tides” with the rumination, “I’m just waiting for the storm to die.”
Though it sounds bleak, accepting this powerlessness in the face of adversity is considered one of the first and most fundamental steps of AA recovery groups. Cole’s reflections across Deceiver don’t contain the ignorant pride Is the Is Are showcased when he proclaimed he had beaten drug addiction, but instead it offers realist insight into the slow, often painful process of renewal. Between the billows of DIIV’s colossal instrumentation are sincere glimpses into Cole’s process of letting go of past strife and allowing healing to begin. It’s a ceaseless process, but it starts here.