DIIV – Frog In Boiling Water

A work of epic, brooding, gorgeous beauty...

The last 12 years have been quite the journey for Zachary Cole Smith and his band DIIV. Fresh from the success of their dream pop debut ‘Oshin’ (2012), album number two was interrupted by Cole’s arrest for heroin possession and a stint in rebab. When the acclaimed ‘Is The Is Are’ (2016) eventually arrived it was dominated by shimmering guitars and a theme of recovery, ultimately a false dawn for the frontman (as recognised by 2019’s appropriately named album ‘Deceiver’).

Their last record radically shifted towards a heavier shoegaze vibe and five years on DIIV have offered a natural follow up, doubling down on the darkened sonics with ‘Frog In Boiling Water’. And dare we say, their fourth is even gloomier, even moodier and even more beautiful than their last. 

Not that the record’s production came without its challenges. As we’ve established, the process of creating a DIIV record is often a bumpy ride – their latest being no different. After four years of failed recording sessions and bitter disagreements over how it should all sound, inter-band relations were at an all-time low. Drastic action was required to salvage the project before capitulation. 

So, in June 2023, DIIV – now formed of Andrew Bailey, Colin Caulfield, Ben Newman, and Zachary Cole Smith – gathered at Los Angeles’ Echo Park to air their grievances and heal frayed relationships. And somehow it worked. This show of honesty brought the band closer together and allowed them to focus on delivering an album worthy of rivalling their outstanding output to date.

Opener ‘In Amber’ immediately cuts to the chase – heavy riffs and distortion push Smith’s cynical lyrics deep within the mix (“I can’t look away / in anger / I want to disappear” he both opens and closes the song). The mood is further intensified on the sludgy ‘Brown Paper Bag’; a detached track that merges elements of dream pop and post rock to create a stunning trance-like state. The music video certainly raises a chuckle too: Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst introduces the band (not exactly two worlds you’d have expected coming together…) for a mock SNL performance to prove – despite their dark sound – a sense of humour remains intact.

On ‘Raining On Your Pillow’, DIIV lower the temperature, replacing disconnection with intimacy. The third song is carried by jangly, Cure-esque riffs and an evocative quality allowing Smith’s bleak lyricism to shine through: “There’s a river out there somewhere I’m the only owner of / Look how far away we are from here” he sings during the song’s muted chorus. 

Later, the haunting ‘Everyone Out’ achieves a similarly softer vibe by combining acoustic plucking, synths and layered tape loops to echo Smashing Pumpkins early sound, while haunting penultimate track ‘Soul-Net’ again proves their effortless knack for emotive soundscapes.

Explaining the album’s title, DIIV revealed the fourth album is “about a slow, sick, and overwhelmingly banal collapse of society under end-stage capitalism, the brutal realities we’ve maybe come to accept as normal.” Pretty bleak stuff, then. And the theme is aided by songs expansive, haunting and rarely outstaying their welcome – only hopeful closer ‘Fender on the Highway’ exceeds the five-minute mark.

DIIV may be far removed from their sun-kissed early sound, but the despair and despondence offered on Frog In Boiling Water makes for a fascinating listen. Still immediate, albeit in a different way entirely. Mood music carrying the weight of the world on its shoulders, progressing the band even further into dark and haunted terrain. DIIV have refined their brooding vibe and produced as gorgeous a record as you’ll hear this year.

9/10

Words: Matthew Mclister

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