Frog in Boiling Water album review by Ethan Rebalkin for Northern Transmissions


Frog In Boiling Water


In their first album since 2019’s Deceiver, DIIV return with their most meticulously crafted album to date, Frog in Boiling Water. Said to be the bands most collaborative and first fully democratic endeavor, Frog in Boiling Water pushes the bands ethos and breaks new ground in their storied career. Alternative tunings, tape loops, drum samples, the band’s first acoustic-led song, and some of their most striking lyrics yet fill out the album’s edges, and leaves the listener floored.

Opening track “In Amber” begins with what might be the most dissonant, evil sounding guitar riffs in all of DIIV’s catalog. Reminiscent of the guitar work of Jesu or Slint, it pulls at your ear and draws you in before quickly dropping out to a single strummed guitar, then shortly thereafter, the whole band. The soft, layered vocal delivery from Smith contrasts the unnerving, anxiety drenched feeling that the instrumentation in the song presents. The bridge section of the song features an amalgamation of different textures that fill out the atmosphere and ambience of the track comfortably. Feedbacking guitars, synths and a slap-back echo on the drum provides the backdrop to the somber vocal melodies. Just when you get yourself acquainted with this new world, that dissonant guitar comes right back to haunt you. In the outro of “In Amber,” Smith repeats the simple, yet effective line “I want to disappear,”; a sentiment that anyone existing in end-stage capitalism could relate to. You can feel the desperation and frustration in the performance, and initiates the listener to the world of DIIV’s Frog in Boiling Water perfectly.

Track 2, and debut single off of Frog In Boiling Water, “Brown Paper Bag” starts with the warble of a tape sample before dropping into a decidedly 90’s guitar rock chord progression. Bands like Built to Spill, Failure, Bowery Electric and my bloody valentine (note “i only said” callback in outro) come to mind as a listener, but the song is undoubtedly DIIV, and a truly fresh take on the sound palette that these bands popularized. Frog in Boiling Water is said by the band to be “a collection of snapshots from various angles of our modern condition.” With lyrics like “Quietly swept away, I circle the drain,” “Down, wasted. Just a brown paper bag again,” “Brown Paper Bag” is seemingly the most inward exploration of that condition, and really encapsulates the hopeless, banal feelings that our world can instigate. With an irony-forward music video that featured the band performing on “SNL,” hosted by Fred Durst, “Brown Paper Bag” provided an early glimpse into the dystopian, hyper-surreal landscape that Frog in Boiling Water set out to occupy.

An Oshin-era guitar part leads the way on “Raining On Your Pillow,” with Ben Newman’s signature floor tom drum pattern following suit. Tape samples wash and waver along with the song and provide an oddly comforting uncertainty that keeps you engaged throughout the song. Title track and fourth single “Frog in Boiling Water” features a similarly familiar guitar part, reminiscent of early DIIV or The Cure. Lyrically, it’s a very pointed look at what the uncertainty, confusion and distrust of pandemic life was like. In my opinion, this song features some of the most densely intelligent DIIV lyrics to date. “The hammer and dance, forever having fun,” Smith sings, a reference to Tomas Pueyo’s viral essay “Coronavirus: The Hammer and The Dance,” published in March 2020, that popularized the “two weeks to flatten the curve” concept. “Burn the books. Don’t you see? History begins right now with you and me.” In a world where misinformation, manipulation and the rewriting of history is becoming more and more common, DIIV takes that world and holds a mirror to it.

2022 saw DIIV release their Live at Murmrr Theatre album seeing the band perform acoustic versions of their songs, and a few covers at the Murmrr Theatre in Brooklyn. Since then, I’ve been itching to hear more acoustic DIIV. Luckily for me, that’s exactly what we got on “Everyone Out,” the third single off FIBW and perhaps their most intimate song yet. “Everyone Out” features an Elliott Smith-reminiscent close-mic’d acoustic guitar that captures every finger scrape and drag, and a Sonic Youth (specifically their song “Shadow of a Doubt”) comparable harmonic-lead, sitting on top of tape samples that, to me, sounds like the chirping of birds. The vocal melodies and lyrics possess the hopeful melancholy of someone who’s finding peace in a new way of life, or solace in the midst of disaster. Definitely one of my favorite DIIV songs to date.

“Reflected” immediately punches you in the gut with its massive guitar sound and thundering bass tone. An instrumental break in the song features an Alex G adjacent synth sound next to a very animated tape loop before returning to the airy verse. When I had the pleasure of interviewing DIIV in April, they mentioned the next track “Somber The Drums” being one of the first songs that they had written for the album. Listening to “Somber The Drums’ ‘ you can definitely hear some sonic-crossover between itself and 2019’s Deceiver with its guitar leads and dynamics, but it still feels more refined and original. The instrumental break in the song features one of the most production heavy moments on the record. Echo-laden drum rhythms, sporadic tape loops, and a dissonant arpeggiated guitar sit with Smith’s swirling vocals, before you center back in on the song’s hook.

An industrial drum loop, and a barrage of synths lay you on a pillow of sound on “Little Birds.” I love the way the synths and distorted guitar sit together on this song, it’s a really unexpected blending of sounds that is just so satisfying. The array of sounds adequately leads you into “Soul-net,” FIBW’s second single. You’re met first with a breakbeat drum sample and a simple, yet incredibly effective guitar lead before the song fully kicks into gear. A song that the band confirmed with me is heavily inspired by the niche “Prison Planet” conspiracy theory (look it up, it’s insane), “Soul-net” is a song written from the point-of-view of someone who’s found solace in a jaded community, while simultaneously losing themselves to it. The song ends with a glimmer of hope when the song’s character comes to terms with their own existence, “I’m not afraid / I love my pain / I know we can leave this prison.” Absolutely crushing.

In album closer “Fender On The Freeway,” a mellowed out guitar lead sits underneath Smith and Caulfield’s harmonized vocals. “I’m nothing to the sprawl,” they sing. As someone who lives in a major city, I can relate to the dehumanizing nature of a sprawling city-scape, being surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people yet still feeling so alone. I don’t think they could have closed the album with a better song. The imagery and symbolism presented in “Fender On The Freeway ” is such a strong figure that works well as a jumping off point to many of the other themes found on FIBW; isolation, hopelessness, jadedness, and desperation to name a few. A bleak track that leaves one daydreaming of an existence outside of their own. Frog in Boiling Water is DIIV’s most ambitious record to date. In listening, you get the sense that every lyric, chord progression, guitar lead, melody, sample etc. was painstakingly pondered and picked apart. What are you left with? An album that’s sound somehow perfectly encapsulates the feelings of living in our current world, while also being as timeless and as evergreen as the music that inspired it.

Pre-order Frog in Boiling Water HERE


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