DIIV - Oshin (2012)
DIIV is a Brooklyn indie rock band. They used to be called “Dive” before they changed their name. Their new album is called Oshin, pronounced like “Ocean.” The frontman, Zachary Cole Smith, has a swoopy haircut and wears oversized clothes onstage. He also plays guitar in Beach Fossils.
I’ve said this before in reference to other bands, but if you’re anything like me, you should already know what this band sounds like based on that description. Like many other bands of similar origins, DIIV’s sonic palette is made up of delay-affected guitar melodies, punchy new wave drums, occasional, unobtrusive synths, and vocals masked in reverb. Is the Brooklyn scene really so predictable now that all the buzz bands look, act, and sound essentially the same?
At any rate, DIIV is being billed as a saving grace for this kind of music, which has experienced a dramatic revival in recent years. They’ve paid their dues on the buzz cycle and made all the right PR moves, and now they’re set to release their debut album Oshin, a grandiose, 40 minute celebration of their revivalist sound.
A quick glance at Oshin’s tracklist reveals that many of the singles that the band has released throughout the past year are present on here — and I do mean many. A red flag should go up in the listener’s mind whenever this happens. It hints at a lack of new ideas and an inability or unwillingness to evolve. DIIV’s big singles are undoubtedly good, but that’s just the problem. If you’ve been following DIIV at all lately, you’ve already heard the best material that Oshin has to offer. Although a few new tracks, like the rollicking “Past Lives,” offer up some of the invigorating sparkle that made tracks like the single “How Long Have You Known?” so infectious, most of them pale in comparison to the heights reached by that track. Furthermore, although the excellent single and album track “Doused” hinted at something bigger with its propulsive post-punk bass line and heavier guitars, DIIV spends most of their time on Oshin meddling around in mid-tempo jangle pop territory instead.
Because of DIIV’s relationship with fellow Brooklyn band Beach Fossils, Oshin will inevitably be lauded as the consummation of Beach Fossils’ musical potential. This is quite a stretch, since DIIV frontman Zachary Cole Smith never actually recorded on any Beach Fossils material, but it also overlooks what was attractive about that band in the first place. Beach Fossils self-titled LP, and, to a lesser extent, the followup EP What A Pleasure, were riddled with charming flaws and innocuous lo-fi production errors that actually helped their appeal rather than hurt it. DIIV’s Oshin is better than both, in a strictly technical sense, but lacks all of that former band’s charm. Without charm — without anything notable, really — what is there to distinguish Oshin from the numerous other records that sound just like it? This album could have been genuinely adventurous, but it just unequivocally isn’t.
I get it though — This is what sounds good at Brooklyn roof top parties and shows at 285 Kent. This is what girls these days like to dance to. Apparently people have stopped caring about what was really special about The Cure — Robert Smith’s persona and lyrics — and have settled for bands that openly ape their musical aesthetic instead. It’s pleasant to listen to in the background, but pleasantries fall flat with repeated, intentful listens. It certainly doesn’t help that a number of these tracks (“Druun” and “Druun, Pt. II in particular) are aimless, yawn-inducing instrumentals. Others, such as the incomprehensible “Earthboy,” might as well be. I’m having a hard time finding either emotion or character in these songs, and it’s making me like it less and less with each successive listen.
Maybe I’m jaded. Maybe I’m just bitter that I didn’t get invited to whatever party DIIV is playing at. Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel that the internet is at least in part at fault for the way this album turned out. The pressure that this band must have felt to appeal to their hype comes through audibly on this record, and they would have probably been better off ignoring it. They tried, admirably, to make the consummate Brooklyn dream pop record, but it’s clear that they tried too hard and in the wrong ways. Simply put, Oshin is the sound of a band without enough ideas being urged on by a system that expects just as much.