Sunday, November 11, 2012

DIIV: Oshin (2012)

(Captured Tracks)

When this Beach Fossils offshoot changed their name to DIIV (instead of Dive), the most apt response was from critic Chris Weingarten: "Who gives a SHIIT?" Indeed, this is the lowest, most limited-appeal depth of a certain breed of indie pop -- a curious hybrid of surf music and dream-pop that's become the specific parlance of Captured Tracks but has also infected more visible acts like the Drums and Surfer Blood. All this is more or less derived from both Flying Nun groups like the Bats and the long-forgotten throwback beach boys the Barracudas, whose records are practically a blueprint. This particular group's long-festering debut Oshin, though, deserves credit for its modesty. It neither claims to nor achieves any significant level of pop transcendence; it's easy to criticize it for washing over us ineffectively, but I'm not sure it completely intends to do anything else. It's a lazy record for lazy times.

That said, the hook is a severe one; the walls of jangly guitar on "(Druun)" and "Past Lives" stir something deep in us nostalgic types, and makes it hard to accept that this a record almost wholly free of complete songs. What we get is more fragmentary. When an actual voice finally asserts itself on the third cut, "Human," it's a bit of an off-putting shock. Said vocals are in the Kevin Shields camp, ebbing and flowing casually over and under the music and never putting across anything distinct lyrically or melodically. Throughout the record, they appear as an instrument at various intervals and can come across as alternately ghostly and vaguely emotive, but even at the rare points (like "How Long Have You Known?") that they're provided with an actual hook, it's endlessly repeated as though it wasn't considered worthwhile to complete the idea. That vagueness of spirit is nice in theory, but you know, even My Bloody Valentine had compositions. For better or worse, this feels like jamming and noodling that happens to be quite pretty but has little final value beyond ambiance.

Again, though, DIIV show an admirable restraint that both helps and hurts. It will take no leap of faith whatsoever to picture any of the tunes here as the evocative and winning score to the '80s throwback teen film of your dreams; they have just the right level of earnest wistfulness to back up less abstractly expressed emotions. On their own, it's like listening to, well, a film score... but one thing that separates this from the zillion other records like it is that only once does it cop to any kind of giddy retro-throwback trip, on the awful Miami Vice pastiche "Doused." In small doses, this stuff is great to zone or even to write to, but its squandered potential is depressing -- there's plenty of talent and a great sound here, and you wish they'd take it somewhere instead of grinding down into the ground with their ringing guitars until sundown.

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