Oshin, the stellar debut album by Brooklyn band DIIV answers a question that none of us knew we wanted to answer: Is it possible to make a great album where every song sounds like it should soundtrack a beer commercial? The answer, it turns out, is a resounding "yes."
Allow me to clarify when I say that this album sounds like a beer commercial. When you watch a commercial, the advertisers can't explicitly show the people in the ad drinking beer. Instead, they're forced to foster association -- to time, to place, to certain feelings. Often, the beer isn't really the focus at all. It's a feeling they're selling you, a yearning for something else. DIIV sells you this feeling better than Budweiser ever could.
Formed last year by Brooklynite Zachary Cole Smith, a Nirvana obsessive who'd done time in fellow BK outfit Beach Fossils, DIIV -- originally known as "Dive" after the Nirvana track, natch -- was originally meant as a pet project for Smith, who, back from tour with Beach Fossils, had found himself feeling isolated in the city. In this way, Oshin captures a sensation that's quintessentially "New York" -- that of feeling alone in a sea of people.
The vocals are a big part of this effect -- it feels as if Smith is singing perfectly clearly, but it's nearly impossible to make out what he's saying. It's a cunning use of the fuzzy haze that permeates much of contemporary indie guitar-rock, but instead of employing reverb for the sake of pure sonic aesthetics, Smith uses it to erect a wall.
On the whole, Oshin creates an appealing synthesis. There is the Nirvana influence that informs more of Smith's being than perhaps even he would like to admit (watch the band live, and the kid looks like he's channeling Kurt Cobain effortlessly), but it's filtered through a sheen of shoegaze, with the ad infinitum repetition of Krautrock icons Kraftwerk thrown in there for good measure.
It's a guitar-driven record, one that could have been released at any point in the past forty years or so. It's not an album of hooks, though you'd be hard-pressed to find more memorable guitar lines than the ones that crop up in "Earthboy" and "Druun." Bushels of indie-rock records get released every year, all taking the meat-and-potatoes of the guitar/bass/drums setup and trying to hit paydirt. Many fail, but DIIV has succeeded. They realized it wasn't about the instruments -- it's about feelings.