During a brief period between 2009 and 2010, the beach was everywhere. From Wavves’ King of the Beach to Beach House, Ducktails’ hypnagogic anthem “Beach Point Pleasant” to the beach-combing Real Estate and the omnipresent chill wave, everyone seemed to be strolling around in the sand and watching the waves roll in, composing tunes for the light-hearted, cloud-gazing, and absent-minded. Since that Summer of dreams, words like “summery,” “hazy,” “fuzzy,” or “reverb-soaked” have effectively been banned from online music journalism. Brooklyn outfit Beach Fossils entered the scene with their eponymous debut LP rather late in the fad, in mid-2010, and although their songs had titles like “Vacation,” “Lazy Day,” and “Daydream,” the band tried to evade the clichéd associations of their chosen name. Still, the album clearly was a child of its time.
When DIIV, né DIVE, debuted their first song “Sometime” last September, they immediately became known as the band “founded by the guy from Beach Fossils”. That guy is Zachary Cole Smith, the latter group’s guitarist. And he seems to have put quite some effort into downplaying resemblances with both his other band and sun-drenched dream pop as a whole. Whatever the main reason for the recent name change, DIIV feels like a step away from the beach. And then there’s the cover art for the band’s debut full-length, Oshin, which constrains the waves to a small circle on the upper left corner, clearing space for a stark, black and white drawing of a human wrestling a giant bird.
Above all, Smith is quite outspoken when it comes to his influences, citing Can, C86, and West African guitar players, and name-checking no fewer than 17 albums as inspirations during the recording of Oshin. Still, it’s close to impossible not to think about Beach Fossils when listening to the record. More than once, the sunny days by the sea return-- especially during “How Long Have You Known” and “Follow”, the lead guitar and vocals drenched in washes of reverb and the kind of lightweight chord progressions that really let the sunshine in.
But once you listen deeper, Oshin revals an impressive musical diversity and a surprising affinity for darker tones. “Wait” features a whistling keyboard line that will immediately evoke The Cure, and finishes off with shoegaze-informed distortion. Other, still gloomier songs, like the title track, lean toward early post-punk. The Can and Faust references that have been part of DIIV’s narrative since the beginning become most obvious in the instrumental interludes, particularly “(Druun Pt. II)”; the same motorik groove and prominent bass part reappear on standout “Doused,” which is among this year’s best songs in guitar music. Krautrock may be associated with a lot of things, yet beach-y weightlessness is probably not among them.
On paper, this juxtaposition of styles and influences may come across as odd. The good news is that Oshin works not despite, but because of its remarkable eclecticism. This album shines brightest when darker shades prevail, and when DIIV most compellingly evade comparisons with all the music that was made in a summer that is long gone.
Oshin is out June 26 via Captured Tracks.