DIIV Provide a Soundtrack For When the Heat Starts to Rise on Frog in Boiling Water

The Brooklyn band’s fourth studio album reminds us of the tricks we constantly fall for, and they double down on their version of shoegaze and dream-pop—which has always had a bit more darkness in its veins than that of their contemporaries.

Music Reviews DIIV
DIIV Provide a Soundtrack For When the Heat Starts to Rise on Frog in Boiling Water

On soul-net.co, you’ll find a Web 1.0-style blog about conspiracies. Its scroll never seems to stop: images, GIFs, theories, platitudes like “the human race will go extinct,” placed next to Occult diagrams and alchemical equations. Soul-net gestures towards some secret global conspiracy, but DIIV didn’t create the website to prove the existence of some Illuminati-type, global cult. They’re not emphasizing how different it is from the parts of the internet we visit every day. They’re reminding us of the similarities. Is this fake promotional blog—which reads “estimated total reading time for this webpage is <0.15hr” at the top—so distinct from what the rest of the internet feels like? Much like A.G. Cook’s Witchfork and Wandcamp—another fake website campaign from this year which satirizes the corporate acquisition of music and media websites—DIIV’s website reminds us of the tricks we constantly fall for. It’s the perfect introduction to their fourth album Frog in Boiling Water, which dwells on how the systems we interact with every day contribute to our gradual demise. Its title refers to the “Boiling Frog” excerpt from environmentalist and culture-critic Daniel Quinn’s 1996 novel The Story of B. The parable goes: Put a frog in boiling water, and it’ll try to escape. But if you put a frog in lukewarm water and slowly boil, “the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor” and “unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death.”

DIIV are not mincing words with this allusion. There’s a real sense of life-or-death throughout Frog in Boiling Water. Vocalist Zachary Cole Smith called it a “political shoegaze record,” but “politics” feels like a bureaucratic term for the album’s dystopia. DIIV did not make a political record; they made an end-times record. Smith sings about the end of the world with a lullaby-like softness. His imagery is vague but bleak, like “A doomsday machine glitch / Is our new god,” “You can see the world / With a big gun in your hand,” and “Laughing in / The vast and vacant sprawl.” Don’t look for any sense of optimism here. Over “Reflected”’s biting guitar, Smith denies that luxury: “Look in my eyes / Repeat the lie: ‘We can still have hope.’”

DIIV’s version of shoegaze and dream-pop has always had a bit more darkness in its veins than that of their contemporaries. Recent albums by their peers from the Captured Tracks-fueled dream-pop of the 2010s—like Beach Fossils’s Bunny and Wild Nothing’s Hold—are airier, sweeter and more nostalgic. But DIIV doubles down on their heaviness. Opener “In Amber” puts their muscular, hefty guitars at the forefront. After the first chorus, a guitar solo smacks down into the drums like a cresting wave. “Somber the Drums” distorts Cole’s voice into an ominous crinkle while drummer Ben Newman pushes the band forward through their walls of guitar like he’s carrying a heavy weight. The drumming is anything but somber. Shoegaze’s reputation as loud, vibed-out, and too-stoned-to-move often ignores the fact that it can, and should, rock. Even on the sparser “Everyone Out,” built around a pulse of acoustic guitar, DIIV honors that truth. The band never get too lost in their own atmosphere.

Amorphous, pedal-heavy shoegaze is often not the genre best prepared to deal out political or social criticisms. The focus is rarely on the lyrics, but on how the words sound when cushioned in bed of delayed, reverbed, and fuzzed-up guitars. DIIV have always had more of a lyrical emphasis than the average shoegazers. 2016’s Is the Is Are and 2019’s Deceiver explored Smith’s struggles with addiction and sobriety. And Frog in Boiling Water offers evocative images, like the dejected, “Stuck on the ground” and “wasted” “Brown Paper Bag.” But it makes its best case as a “political shoegaze” album through its tone. “Brown Paper Bag” works because of its dense and eerie momentum: DIIV does not narrate the parable of the frogs in boiling water, they provide the soundtrack for when the heat starts to rise and the boil starts to set in. Like scrolling through soul-net, there’s an unsettling familiarity and concern: Is this what the world has come to? And, more importantly, am I the frog?

Andy Steiner is a writer and musician. When he’s not reviewing albums, you can find him collecting ‘80s Rush merchandise. Follow him on Instagram or Twitter.

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