DIIV's 'Frog in Boiling Water' review: Like a lost shoegaze masterpiece

A sludgy, dreamy shoegaze album that sounds like the missing link between My Bloody Valentine’s 'Loveless' and Slowdive’s 'Souvlaki.'
Zachary Cole Smith of DIIV
Zachary Cole Smith of DIIV / Jeremychanphotography/GettyImages

Sometimes an album comes out that hits you just right. You’re either in the right frame of mind for its ethos, or its subject matter deals directly with what you’re going through in your own life, or the sonics of it are simply exactly what you’re looking for at that moment.

For this writer, DIIV’s fourth album Frog In Boiling Water delivered that feeling in spades upon first listening. As someone who is well versed in the shoegaze and dream pop genres, this album felt like coming home. FIBW delivers all of the soft/loud dynamics shoegaze is known for with a mix of crunchy, heavily distorted guitar parts alongside hazy, ethereal vocals that seemingly float above the maelstrom of guitar parts, shimmering beautifully over the pandemonium below.

One notable element of shoegaze music is that while the lyrics are usually secondary, one thing that can never be overlooked is a track’s melody. While all DIIV albums that have come before this one are plenty tuneful, it seems that lead singer, writer, and guitarist Zachary Cole Smith has finally perfected his craft, as each song on FIBW delivers an earworm melody all underpinned by a soft bed of vocal harmonies (a la shoegaze legends Ride's debut album) and the group’s powerful distorted guitars.

Frog In Boiling Water is DIIV's crowning achievement and one of the best albums of 2024

DIIV don’t waste much time showing off their shoegaze bona fides, as the opening track, “In Amber,” combines a slightly metal-sounding riff with twinkling vocal harmonies and a thudding rhythm part that sounds like something by heavy-leaning shoegazers Swervedriver.

However, the album’s first single and second track chronologically, “Brown Paper Bag,” is where the group truly spreads its wings. It’s a powerful shoegaze anthem that ends with a guitar riff that sounds a lot like My Bloody Valentine’s “I Only Said.” Featuring perhaps the best chorus of any song on this album, “Brown Paper Bag,” shows how much the group has grown – ever since its most recent album Deceiver in 2019.

The album is not all stacks upon stacks of distorted guitar parts, however. Show-stopping track “Everyone Out” is a hypnotic acoustic-leaning torch song with a looped drum part and spectral, spooky “found sounds” coursing through it. “Soul-net,” the second single from the album, serves as the release’s crowning statement.

A striking minor-key verse melody is underpinned and doubled by a droning guitar part and a stubbornly obstreperous bass line until the chorus melody skies above the morass of sound below with Smith singing “Just say I'm not afraid; I love my pain; I know I can leave this prison.” A mesmerizing and cathartic track.

According to the group, FIBW is titled after Daniel Quinn's metaphor in the philosophical novel The Story of B, and refers to the "slow, sick, and overwhelmingly banal collapse of society under end-stage capitalism, the brutal realities we’ve maybe come to accept as normal". The band describes the album as "a collection of snapshots from various angles of our modern condition which we think highlights what this collapse looks like and, more particularly, what it feels like."

FIBW definitely specializes in “feelings,” as shoegaze itself can be defined as internalized feelings brought to light under the steely gaze of massive washes of reverbed guitars and disembodied vocal stylings. Certainly, the album has a rather depressive tone, but the vocal melodies are so beautiful, and the harmonies are so clean and pristine, that DIIV has seemingly placed a bandage on the myriad issues befalling the world through its inherently beautiful music.

That defeated yet somehow the hopeful point of view is on display on the album’s title track, as Smith sings: “The future came; And everything's known; There's nothing left to say; Show's over, take me home.”

Much has been made of this album’s grunge inspirations, and while those elements are certainly apparent through the group’s thunderous riffs and bone-crunching guitar parts, grunge music is known for strong, powerful lead singers who deliver earnest anthems.

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DIIV’s Smith is not that kind of singer – and the band is better because of it. Zachary Cole Smith’s wispy and delicate voice is perfectly suited to shoegaze, and now that the band is fully embracing that fact, they’re able to deliver an album as coherent and frankly flawless as FIBW.

This is a truly impressive collection of songs from DIIV, and this album represents a tremendous step forward for a band that has already produced multiple terrific albums throughout its history. It’s simply staggering to see DIIV’s arc: from a zeitgeisty jangle-pop outfit on their 2012 debut album Oshin to embracing shoegaze on 2016’s Is the Is Are and even more so on 2019’s Deceiver until now – when the group has delivered one of the best albums of the year so far.

Score: 5/5

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