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DIIV returns with Frog In Boiling Water's bleak outlook

"Frog In Boiling Water"

Release date: 24 May 2024
DIIV Frog In Boiling Water cover
24 May 2024, 09:00 Written by Matt Young

It’s been almost five years since DIIV dropped Deceiver.

Their third, unanimously praised album, toted a darker musical tone fraught with the continuing aftermath of addiction and recovery. They’d also covered similar ground on the preceding album Is The Is Are which divided some opinions as they experimented with their blissed-out band sound. So we’re now faced with Frog In Boiling Water an album that by all accounts has had a difficult gestation period, to put things mildly.

Having begun initially as a solo project by Zachary Cole Smith the sparkling shoegaze and dream pop sounds of their debut Oshin, DIIV’s album releases have trodden a path towards ever murkier waters. It comes as little surprise then that we encounter Frog In Boiling Water dealing with even more existential dread.

As a commentary on the current state of the world, it references global conflicts, culture wars, climate change, online discord, and mistrust everywhere. Fear of government, misinformation, and an increased paranoia of not knowing where to turn or even trust in oneself. These are weighty subjects to grapple with and while they reflect the very precarious world we inhabit the manner in which that informs the album lyrically and musically has Smith proselytizing like a doom-laden, but shufflingly soft-spoken, street preacher.

“In Amber” sets out the stall for what’s coming as Smith moans among the sludgy guitars, “Remember they told us / The tide lifts our boats up / That ocean is dried out.” That defeat permeates every bar of Frog In Boiling Water. Band members held a summit meeting midway through the recording to discuss roles, direction, and exactly what DIIV represented now and it proved to be very telling. The benign dictatorship Smith wielded, even when gripped by addiction, has seemingly gone. The renewed cohesion and collaboration may have saved the band during this album’s recording process, airing grievances and settling put-off tensions, but the resulting homogeny of their sound lacks real bite and feels muddied. Leaning into conspiracy lore as the lyrics unfurl Smith's declarative points are portrayed as pointless, our complicity is a given. If these songs are warnings or admonishment, holding up a mirror to ourselves within the notion of societal collapse then it’s met with a defeatist shrug. Given that starting point, there’s no room for joy or even hope.

The title track leans just as hard into the bleakness as it accepts its fate, “The future came / And everything's known / There's nothing left to say / Show's over, take me home / Far away” and penultimate track “Soul-Net” rails against inner and external turmoil in this switched on plugged-in world, Smith conceding, “I’m not afraid / I love my pain / I know I can leave this prison.” These are very unambiguous lyrics, crushed and checked out despite not explicitly stating the exact cause of the impending doom.

Each song maintains the same tone of washed-out, reverb-heavy riffs, cymbal splashes, and skittering muted drumming rarely venturing outside that remit sonically. “Everyone Out”, “Reflected”, “Somber The Drums”, and “Little Birds” all segue into each other like a fever dream from which there’s no respite.

Much like the frog alluded to in the title, listening to this album is akin to staring into the unknown, face pressed close to a mesmerizing fire. Hypnotised. Unable to kick against anything, reluctantly accepting a future of turmoil or a futile life. It may reflect our lives in some ways but it’s a sour listen and such a far cry from the glistening spark of the early days. You can also debate the ability to adapt and change until you’re blue in the face. DIIV sounds like a band worn down on Frog In Boiling Water and without a radical shift in thinking, may yet prove to be their swansong because once you’ve reached the end of the line where is there to go next?

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