DIIV Have the Instinct to Survive on 'Frog in Boiling Water'

BY Marko DjurdjićPublished May 23, 2024


DIIV is a band built on nuance and confrontation. While one side of their music is light, wistful and psychedelic, the other is frazzled, dissonant and jarring. They're a band of contradiction and warnings, violence and relief, and it's this healthy balance that has made them one of the most interesting bands in rock music today. With the release of their latest album, Frog in Boiling Water, the band — Andrew Bailey, Colin Caulfield, Ben Newman and Zachary Cole Smith — ends a five-year album gap, its longest between releases. It finds them swimming against a ceaseless current both metaphorical and temporal.

The four-year writing and recording period that connects 2019's Deceiver to their latest work proved to be tumultuous for the band: egos, friendships and alliances were all tested (and bruised), but with tension came acceptance and adaptation. The band took their troubles and infused the album's lyrics, music and title with the fraught emotional landscape they'd conjured, the latter of which references a horrifying segment in environmentalist author Daniel Quinn's novel The Story of B, who based it on a apologue of unknown origin.

As the band explains it, "If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will of course frantically try to clamber out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death."

While the premise is actually false (a frog will eventually jump out of a pot of water once it gets too hot; it won't resign itself to the boiling), the metaphor stands, and on Frog in Boiling Water, DIIV interpret this lethal acquiescence as a reflection of our modern condition, particularly under the crushing weight of late-stage capitalism. It's an apt — and altogether disturbing — comparison, but one which hopefully inspires resistance and response.

Much like the titular receptacle, "Brown Paper Bag" drifts on fuzzed out guitars, lilting bass lines and languid drums, faint remnants of a breezy summer afternoon spent slightly stoned and perpetually anxious. The song's self-effacing lyrics reference garbage and reticence, with Smith at one point singing "Put a smile on my face / My home in flames / The past erased," as if forgetting and burning it all down will somehow help. It probably won't, but at least something gets turned to ash. The outro guitar riff is heavily — and unapologetically — indebted to My Bloody Valentine's "I Only Said," harkening back to the heady pretension of shoegaze (don't worry, this is absolutely a compliment), while its Fred Durst-featuring (!) music video further promotes the albums anti-consumerist, anti-capitalist stance, parodying the corporate behemoth that is SNL.

DIIV's approach to music making has always been fraught and unflinching: tabloid worthy band dynamics — which have included substances and rehab, high profile relationships and lost band members — have dogged the band for years and have played a large part in the DIIV story. And yet, they've somehow managed to overcome those non-musical chapters while simultaneously surviving and thriving. Frog in Boiling Water acts as an unsubtle testament to the band's ability to withstand all this controversy and pain.

This sentiment is echoed in "Soul-net," where Smith hints at all the hurt, suffering and anguish he's put himself, his loved ones and his band through. Its slow, dirge-like composition betrays the heart of the matter, which is much more positive than the tense, unnerving backing would lead you to believe: ultimately, the song, much like the album, speaks of healing and perseverance, a testament to self-worth and self-preservation. It strikes an uplifting note, encouraging the listener to resist and respond to both their own and society's ills accordingly, and with enriched self-confidence. He sings, "Just say: 'I'm not afraid / I love my pain / I know I can leave this prison'," a reaction that's certainly worth embracing. Similarly, on "Everyone Out," he sings "Try and stop me now, I'm / Ready for my rise / Just wait," motivating himself even when everyone else has given up on him.

The production by Chris Coady is airy and dry, hollow and cavernous. The drums on "Raining on Your Pillow" are particularly crisp, the clicking of the drumstick on the cymbals as prominent as the cascading, droning guitars. "Frog in Boiling Water" includes the album's most romantic lead up ("Far away / Distant lands / See the world / You can see the world") before it delivers the punchline-cum-horrible truth: "With a big gun in your hand."

Although the album features some of DIIV's most sincere, affecting writing, it's also somewhat inert: almost all of the songs have a similar mid-tempo drive that causes much of the first half to blend, which makes for a consistent yet somewhat monotonous listen. There are of course outliers (mid-album standout "Reflected" has an absolutely soaring second half, while the noisy "Somber the Drums" sees Smith deliver his cryptic words through ghostly, multi-tracked vocals), but the album's tonal dynamics lean too heavily on crunchy distortion and Smith's hushed, echoey voice. The album is certainly dreamy, but its lack of urgency may also cause some listeners to snooze.

Ultimately, Frog in Boiling Water is not a fatalistic album defined by apathy and misanthropy. It betrays the nihilism of its title (and its metaphor of creeping normality) by accepting the self and its flaws, recognizing that change is not only inevitable, but oftentimes necessary — a challenge for many of us. It's full of trauma, guilt and fear, but it's also hopeful and resilient, refusing to give up and be washed away in the digital torrent that is our modern condition.

focused on self-preservation yet never saccharine or sappy (the line "Laughing in / the vast and vacant sprawl / A fleck of dust and somehow self involved" kind of says it all), Frog in Boiling Water distills what it actual means to endure as an autonomous subject in today's individualistic, self-absorbed and oftentimes cruel world. We know what DIIV would do to survive. It's never too late to follow suite. 


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