DIIV - Oshin
As early Dive singles rolled out slowly over the last two years, much buzz was made of Zachary Cole Smith's involvement with Brooklyn jangle poppers Beach Fossils. The thumbprint of Dustin Payseur was certainly felt on those early singles, in the breezy aesthetic that Smith's project adopted in its infancy, and in the way that, despite the obvious obfuscation of the lyrics on tracks like 'Sometime', there was this sense that everything Smith was saying was important.
But that breeziness, that wind in your hair, light-leaked, lens-flared, sun-baked summer pop sound that Beach Fossils has so adequately mined over their short career was short-lived in the Dive pantheon. Whether it was Smith playing his cards close to his chest with those early singles, or whether the band legitimately became more fully formed after their stint playing shows night after night in Brooklyn DIY spaces, each single released revealed a deeper, more fleshed out take on the sound that Brooklyn's Captured Tracks label has so long associated itself with. The 'Human' 7" dropped. More live shows. 'Doused' hit the internet. Smith's project morphed from sub-Beach Fossils indie pop to muscular post-punk more indebted to the insular sounds of isolation and depression than to the feel good vibes that always seem to accompany any mention of Payseur's project. It became clear quite quickly that this record from the newly dubbed DIIV was going to be something special--something far beyond the occasional footnote on a career as a Beach Fossils live member.
And then Oshin gave us more than we might have ever anticipated. It's a record in two parts. The first is a summer album giving off an air of Martin Courtney and generally hooking in those who still might approach this album, for whatever reason, as a summery side project of sorts. That's not to say that these tracks slack off in any way. Aforementioned early single 'Human' functions as a centerpiece to this early half, with Devin Ruben Perez's sprightly bassline becoming the bedrock for Smith's art-damaged imagery. Sunrises and birds flying may seem an all too common topic for a tune like 'Human', but such common images soon take a turn for the absurd with lines like "Young light waves in/drink the heat and climb and twist/fawn looking for a friend to kiss." Powerful images indeed, despite their seemingly nonsensical construction. It's the Cobain approach to songwriting, evoking emotions through specific imagery rather than spelling out anything concrete. It's quite ambitious to force the listener to fill in the gaps like that, especially when the vocals lie so low in the mix, but it's clear that Smith has spent quite a bit of time massaging these words in addition to the obviously light and catchy instrumental.
While the first side of the record gives you the fix of reverb-drenched guitar lines and upbeat choruses that you might have (fairly) come to this record seeking, there's a quartet of tracks that forms the second half of the record that sonically matches the imagery evoked on the first side. Starting with 'Follow', what is perhaps the most catchy track to first see the light of day on Oshin, and continuing on down through 'Doused' (and particularly the latter two tracks of that stretch), Smith and company present us with the motorik that began to define their later singles. 'Doused' gives us straightforward drive, attack and ambition. It's tracks like these that make it clear that Smith was delving heavily into Jandek tapes and Nirvana bootlegs, for these tunes are darker, both lyrically and musically, than any early reference points might suggest. Smith's opening intonation on the title track ("Oh fuck the world / Alien love / Pull me out / in your flood") seems most integral to the thematic sensibilities of the second half of this record. We're deep in the shit here, and these images, as well as the pounding tom beat suggest an itchy sort of isolation. Nothing feels good for no reason, and Smith effectively encapsulates that in a few hazy images rather than one explicit statement.
It's this evocative approach to songwriting, rather than anything happening sonically, that suggests the infinite promise of DIIV's future. Sure the, guitar work is great, the basslines are amongst the best in indie rock, and Colby Hewitt can sure play those drums, but a lot of guys in this business are competent musicians. What Smith has mastered, as few can as early in their career as he has, is the ability to conjure moods, both through specific lyrical imagery and through the melodic turns each track takes. It's taken a full album cycle, but I think we can safely say that we won't be looking back on Smith's career as that guy who played guitar with Beach Fossils.