DIIV (formerly known as Dive) are an offshoot of Beach Fossils led by their guitarist Zachary Cole Smith. What began as a casual side project from Smith in 2011 in order to write his own songs out with Beach Fossils has swiftly grown into Oshin, a remarkably special debut album that is guitar music at its very finest.
DIIV make distinctly un-rock music. The interlocking, subtly entwined guitars of Smith and Andrew Bailey that bind together DIIV’s sound are lissom soft and provide the basis for their enchanting, transcendental sound that’s reminiscent of the guitar sounds conjured up in the ’80s by groups like The Cure and Cocteau Twins. DIIV are very much about textures and soundscapes over traditional song forms. Smiths’s wan and light voice is submerged in the background as the mellifluous glide of the guitars and bass flutter around him. The provenance of sound over vocals gives a slightly mysterious quality to these songs.
Instrumental Druun introduces the very immersive, aqueous sound. The water comparison is apposite as, according to Smith, the band was originally named Dive as every member of the band is, astrologically, a water sign. The analogies with water and the ocean are obvious throughout Oshin’s duration, yet there is something deeply entrancing about this lucid sound.
Tracks like the impossibly beautiful Past Lives and Human show that sometimes the pure beauty of a guitar sound can be greater and even more resonant than the most emotive voice. One of Oshin’s strengths is it sounds remarkably coherent and cohesive. It is one of those very rare records where every intricate part coexists perfectly.
There are rather more earthbound moments, such as the metronomic locked groove of Air Conditioning, or the pleasant but lightweight wispy sound of Sometime. These lulls though are very much countered by soaring highs. There is a magical moment during album highlight How Long Have You Known? where the guitar seems to lift off and float away onto another sonic plane altogether. Moments like these lift Oshin far beyond your typical guitar album.
Credit is also due to the rhythm section of Devin Ruben Perez and Colby Hewitt. As impressive as the guitar sounds, it would be nothing without the rhythm section to back it up. The drums and bass are understated but provide a key role allowing Hewitt and Smith’s guitars to flourish. The driving bass on Doused provides a welcome opportunity for Perez to shine.
While most of Oshin’s lyrical content is oblique and hidden, there are a few occasions when the elusive veil is lifted. Final track Home is one such example. Over the loveliest of twinkling music box like guitar sounds Smith utters the lyric: “You’ll never have a home until you go home.” On the face of it it’s a rather strange and silly line, but in the context of the album it makes perfect sense and the effect is extremely touching.
In a time when there is much hand wringing about the future of guitar music amid fears of being swamped with nostalgic revivalism and a chronic lack of ideas, a record like Oshin is one to be cherished. There are, of course, echoes of the past, but there is also something pleasingly fresh in the way DIIV take an age old sound and turn it into something magical that’s at times deeply beautiful.