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DIIV Go Deeper on ‘Frog in Boiling Water’

Indie-rockers' nocturnal fourth album brings their most subtle and cerebral music
DIIV (Photo credit: Shervin Lainez)

DIIV – Frog in Boiling Water

DIIV are not the same band they were a decade ago.

Their 2012 debut, Oshin, was the taut, propulsive, and coolly dour antidote to the prog-pop maximalism of late 2000s indie-rock. It sounded like cruising through a nighttime cityscape mere minutes after a torrential downpour, that noir-like climate when the asphalt is steamy and the air is clogged with excess vapor. Is the Is Are, released four years later, had the same post-punk undergirding, but the oil-slick guitar leads glimmered with an even more luminous beauty, and Zachary Cole Smith’s murmured hooks sliced through the balmy instrumentation like LED headlights. 

For as dancey as songs like “Doused” and “Under the Sun” were, DIIV’s music was always distraught and sullen, but 2019’s Deceiver was a damn-near blackout—a total surrender to the gnashing fuzz and wood-snapping dirges of grunge-chord shoegaze. Deceiver arrived at the perfect time, right before that style of heavy shoegaze had reached its saturation point. On Frog Boiling in Water, DIIV have once again shrewdly adapted, pivoting away from the chonky riffs of Deceiver and delivering the most tense, subtle, and cerebral music of their whole career. 

The whole conceit of Deceiver was the band’s attempt to make a proper shoegaze album after years of straddling the genre. They studied My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless like a sacred text, recruited producer Sonny Diperri (who’s worked on unreleased music with MBV), and certainly proved their ‘gaze bona fides with crushing fuzz-dumps like “Horsehead” and “Taker.” There’s more of that on Frog…—the seasick riff of “In Amber” and the blinking lick in “Brown Paper Bag,” which sounds almost identical to MBV’s “I Only Said”—but the most gratifying moments come when conventional shoegaze is only part of DIIV’s sonic equation. 

On the title-track, the reverse-reverb guitar streaks that spill over during the build-up are less an outpour and more a leak, drizzling over lush, harmony-laden vocals and perky guitar strums conveying a sort of mystic folkiness that’s totally new for DIIV. “Everyone Out” sounds like they wrote a song in the semi-acoustic style of their plush, fibrous Live at the Murmrr Theatre LP. The marshy guitar scrapes and nocturnal hushedness is less Asobi Seksu and more Alex G (whom DIIV covered on Murmrr), and the song concludes with a smoky, after-hours inversion of their signature throb. 

The second side of Frog in Boiling Water suffers without the propulsive blitz of a Deceiver deep cut like “Blankenship” to pinch it awake, and no song on here even strives to reignite the pyre-like blaze of “Horsehead.” If DIIV’s formative albums were suitable soundtracks for seedy midnight escapades, and Deceiver evoked the 2 a.m. moment when things got hairy, then Frog in Boiling Water is what you want to have playing in your headphones when you finally arrive home and slip under the covers. Even if you doze off before its conclusion, it’ll have succeeded in transporting you to another place. – GRADE: B+

You can preview Frog in Boiling Water at Bandcamp and elsewhere.