There are some albums that grab you immediately. You press play and within minutes the veil is lifted, synapses fire and cranial pleasure centers reel. I often attach this expectation to albums like Oshin to those lauded by blogs and music news sites. It’s not that I’m unable to navigate the hype. I think I just really want to believe the buzz is as good as the world says it is. And after listening to DIIV’s first long play offering for the better part of a week, I can say that Oshinis not the album described above—at least, it wasn’t at first.
DIIV’s first single “How Long Have You Known” seemed like the kind of straight-ahead post-punk you might find from a few other bands currently kicking around. It was fun, but the press surrounding it seemed somewhat over the top. Even when the album started streaming online, the first few listens left me with a similar reaction. It wasn’t until I invested more time into Oshin that I started noticing the subtle nuances of guitarist Zachary Cole Smith’s songwriting; On “Human,” Smith’s buoyant vocal progressions seem to lift the bass and shimmering guitar out of the vapor; “Doused,” finds driving drums and piercing electric guitar building to a exhilarating halt.
During a recent interview with Pitchfork, Smith admits to mumbling nonsensical words during performances of “Doused” for the first six months of the songs existence. He didn’t have any lyrics prepared, so he made them up as he went along. Not that he is ever one to be concerned with titles: Upon hearing there was a Belgian group in the '90s named Dive, Smith had no problem changing the group’s name to DIIV. "I originated this project in a bedroom with no Internet and didn’t know if it would ever leave the bedroom. 'DIVE', the word, was an element of what inspired the project in its genesis, but we’ve outgrown the name and its associations,” said Smith in a press release. “The band is the same, the music is the same, the future will always be the same. A name is nothing."
I’m curious if this laissez faire approach to attaching meaning to words and vocals is what led to the guitar to play such a major role on Oshin. It’s Smith and Andrew Bailey’s dynamic guitar work that directs much of the sound and emotion over the thirteen tracks. Culminating with “Sometime”, Bailey and Smith’s light-show pickings intertwine beautifully over Colby Hewitt’s thundering drums. The vocals never evolve past being repeated phrases, but against the dueling guitars, wilt elegantly.
Oshin may not have hit me like I thought it might, but few albums do, and the ones that do, usually burn out the quickest. I look forward to finding out what’s left to discover from Oshin and DIIV in the years to come.