Dream pop and shoegaze have a weird relationship. Not all dream pop can be called shoegaze, and in fact most shoegazers would be quick to correct you for mislabelling it as such. You could, however, get away with bucketing almost all shoegaze under dream pop. With this decade’s shoegaze revival, many bands have blurred the lines between the two subgenres. An album like DIIV’s Deceiver is an example of a dream pop band going shoegaze.
In addition to turning shoegaze, this album is also darker than the band’s previous albums. Lyrical themes deal with addiction and recovery, similar to their previous album Is the Is Are. However, unlike their previous release, this album focuses much more on the harsh realities of the road to recovery. There are a few moments of respite from the dark and dreary, like the song “The Spark”, but most songs are low-to-mid tempo dirges through weighty subject matter. One thing “The Spark” has in common with the songs surrounding it is the strong melodies – both in its chorus and the outro guitar lead.
The band’s command of melody is astounding. The prime example of this, “Skin Game”, is arguably the best shoegaze song of the year¹. The lead guitar melody is timeless, and every vocal part is hooky as hell. The way the harmonies are stacked in the verses to build to subsequent lines is sublime. Every part of the song is in its perfect place. It feels familiar, but not in a nostalgia-baiting kind of way. There is great lyrical imagery throughout the song too (“They gave us wings to fly / But then they took away the sky”).
“Blankenship” is right up there with “Skin Game” quality-wise. The bass really takes control of the ship (sorry), providing countermelody, rhythmic interplay, and double stops. This is the most uptempo song on the album, and the lyrics (dealing with climate change) are also a welcome departure from the rest of the album’s themes. This climate-conscious banger is contrasted by the preceding song “Lorelei”, the slowest cut on the album. This luscious and dreamy gem is enhanced but an excellent lead guitar throughout that transmutes between fuzzy slides and harmonic feedback.
There are a few forgettable songs on here, namely the ones that bookend album. “Horsehead” has a few great lines (“I wanna breathe in / And never breathe back out”), but not much else remarkable about it. It’s a little disappointing because the opening track should set higher expectations for the rest of the album than this one does. The closing number “Acheron” contains several intriguing musical ideas, but never really reaches its full potential. There are also a couple of moments where the vocal style gets tiring. This includes the verses of the two songs just mentioned, as well as the verses of “Like Before You Were Born”. The vocals work better with harmonies interspersed, and fortunately the majority of the melodies elsewhere are interesting enough to carry through where there isn’t harmony.
If you take out the more forgettable songs, the album is still over 30 minutes of great music. I think the further venture into shoegaze was successful for DIIV, and given some of Deceiver‘s high moments, I’m excited to see where the band goes next.
Best Tracks: Skin Game, Blankenship, The Spark, Lorelei
Weakest Tracks: Horsehead, Acheron
FFO: My Bloody Valentine, Nothing, Wild Nothing
Overall Score: B
¹If you have a rebuttal, or maybe wanna give me a sneak peak of the best shoegaze song of 2020, reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org 🙂