DIIV – Oshin
Oshin is the debut record by Brooklyn quartet DIIV. Formerly known as Dive, the name being a nod to both the Nirvana track and the fact that every band member was born under an astrological water sign, it is tempting to label them as a Beach Fossils side-project due to the stylistic similarities between the two, the fact they are label mates on the excellent Captured Tracks and that they share a member, guitarist Zachary Cole Smith. But while Smith occupies a place somewhat on the periphery of Beach Fossils, playing second fiddle to the vision of Dustin Payseur, he is undisputedly the driving force behind DIIV, an outfit which also includes his childhood friend Andrew Bailey as an auxiliary guitarist, Devin Ruben Perez on bass and ex-Smith Westerns sticksman Colby Hewitt.
The record opens with (Druun), an instrumental piece introducing the band’s penchant for jangling guitars, mellifluous, intertwining melodies, and reverb-heavy drums binding everything together. Much of the record revolves around this template – far from being a disparaging characteristic, however, this singularity of vision is one of the record’s greatest strengths. Such is the euphoniousness of DIIV’s sound, it would hardly be a stretch to listen to the record on loop for a few hours at a time. The cliché of music possessing the power to transport the listener to ‘a different place’ certainly applies to Oshin.
Though largely instrumental, the record is occasionally augmented by Smith’s effect-drenched vocals, often sounding as if delivered from deep within a distant cave. That Smith provided a lyric sheet for fans shortly after the record’s release speaks volumes about its near-indecipherable vocals, and it is perhaps telling that the record’s finest track, How Long Have You Known?, is also the one where the lyrics are easiest to discern. In truth, Oshin is a record for which lyrics are hardly essential, and at its core this is ‘mood music’, revolving around feelings and emotions illustrated perfectly well through the sonic palettes of the instrumentation alone.
The most striking aspect of Oshin at first is just how similar it sounds to both What A Pleasure-era Beach Fossils and Golden Haze-era Wild Nothing, but something about this record feels much more organic and elemental, as if tied to the currents and tides, or designed to soundtrack an evening sunset at a deserted beach.
There is a melancholic aspect here in keeping with the nostalgia so often purveyed by bands of DIIV’s ilk, the legions of surf-centric lo-fi guitar bands popping up over the US, but Oshin is executed with class, a great and ubiquitous sense of melody, and imbued with a layer of difficult-to-pinpoint ‘Britishness’. At times recalling the oceanic shoegaze of Ride’s Nowhere, the spacious expeditions of Slowdive’s Souvlaki and the open road solitude of Swervedriver’s Mezcal Head, DIIV’s sound does owe a lot to the British shoegaze scene of the early 90s, without ever quite stepping into shoegaze territory itself. Smith also cites Krautrock, Baba Salah’s Borrey and the famous C86 tape as important influences, and all are evident on Oshin, however subtle.
As an opening statement, Oshin could scarcely be better. Preceded by three singles, Sometime, Human and Geist (the A-sides of the former two of which are included here), it was clear the band had already well and truly defined their sound after just a handful of tracks, and Oshin fully realises this style, avoiding the common debut album trap of trying to shoot off on too many tangents while still keeping things fresh and engaging. Many bands spend their entire career simply trying to capture a mood, evoke a sense of place, or revive a moment in time, and Oshin can be considered a rousing success for having achieved all of those things on just one record.