Four years into making their fourth album, Frog in Boiling Water, the four members of DIIV needed to talk—not later, but now.
The extended process had been uncertain and sometimes grueling, not only pushing them to up their musicianship but also taxing most every resource and bond they had ever cultivated. During the prior decade, DIIV had helped revitalize dream-pop and shoegaze alike, culminating in 2019’s unapologetic genre showcase, Deceiver. But with it, DIIV were now out of contract, proverbial free agents who didn’t owe anything to anyone but themselves—that is, to make a record that challenged them, that pushed their sound beyond any previous parameters.
But after all that collective toil, their relationships with one another were fraying badly inside that singular alchemical state of being a band, where dynamics of family, friendship, and finances become entangled in a Gordian knot. There were suspicions and resentments, bruised egos and anxious questions, all fingerprints left by a quest that demanded DIIV grow both together and apart. So on June 1, 2023, just before they began to mix four years of effort, DIIV—Andrew Bailey, Colin Caulfield, Ben Newman, and Zachary Cole Smith—gathered in Echo Park Lake, the scene of so many halcyon hangs in their early days, under vaguely gray skies to air accumulated grievances. They dropped the shields of professionalism that had let them work amid the rancor and allowed themselves to get mad and bummed, real and vulnerable. Really, it could have broken DIIV before Frog in Boiling Water was finished.
This fireside, however tense, worked: DIIV eventually finished Frog in Boiling Water. It is a gorgeous and haunted record, as DIIV gaze into our collective oblivion and try to articulate a trace of hope inside that enveloping gloom. Balancing rhythms first built from breakbeats and inspired by post-industrial power with guitars and vocals that often billow like diaphanous drapery, Frog in Boiling Water is mighty but breezy, greyscale but opalescent. “Reflected,” for instance, surges through softness, reckoning with the lies we tell ourselves to survive while wondering if they still serve us. “Brown Paper Bag” funnels dejection and angst into an exquisite intersection of dream-pop and post-rock, a wispy tune stretching from a steely foundation. Though DIIV helped to foster a shoegaze scene that has since swept up many imaginations, they rose above it despite nearly falling apart. On these 10 songs, they brood beautifully inside music that frets about the present and future—but at least acknowledges it can still exist.
The instant DIIV finished Deceiver in early 2019, they were ready to run it back, to make another live-in-the-room record as soon as possible. The sessions had been brief and efficient, the four members in newfound lockstep. Could they amplify that feeling? They never got the chance. With the world upended, every member began working on their own pieces, individual tastes accreting into a mountain of material so large they began to grade each item, A to F. They daydreamed about what the pieces might eventually make, sometimes discarding the notion of a “rock record” for one made with computers and samples or sometimes pondering something as heavy and blissful as Justin K. Broadrick’s Jesu. There were samples, tape machines, breakbeats: Everything seemed possible, open, new.
DIIV had once been hamstrung by obdurate headlines, gossip about Smith’s personal problems often overshadowing the work of the cohesive, smart rock quartet they had gradually become. What’s more, Smith co-founded United Musicians and Allied Workers, an organization devoted to wresting power away from an entertainment oligarchy. Principles from both scenarios—no hierarchy and equal participation, no overriding frontman but instead four people interacting in full—had become central to DIIV’s approach, prompting them to move as a democracy more than ever before.
This equitable approach created inevitable strain, especially when DIIV finally rendezvoused in early 2022 to figure out how all their enthusiasms could cohere. They decamped to a rented home in the Mojave, guitars, recording gear, and a clutch of books about humanity’s failures, psychological warfare, and Zen poetry in tow. They worked 13 hours a day for 10 days straight, so taxed as they tried to circle a sound that Caulfield earned himself a case of nicotine poisoning. They hoped to finish the bulk of the record there, to capture a room sound that felt ineffable. But stress mounted as they struggled to solidify what their fourth album could be, to funnel their individual passions into a collective whole that also said something about our precarious moment. They headed home without a record.
Adding another strong perspective did not alleviate this tension, but it did help break the stalemate. For DIIV, working with producer Chris Coady—whose records with the likes of Beach House and Blonde Redhead were mutual lodestars—was fittingly aspirational. They felt they would need to rise to his level. In September 2022, as they began religiously tracking six days a week at his home studio for the next nine months, he became the de facto fifth member, joining existential debates about DIIV’s direction and how to get there. He switched sides as he saw fit.
Even when the conflicts felt insurmountable, with five personalities vying for a say in DIIV’s future, they all showed up and tried, anyway. They all worked to get better, too. Sometimes that meant Newman was up at 7 a.m. to practice breakbeats created by some of the best drummers in the world. Sometimes that meant Coady setting up a tape machine in his backyard, Bailey filling it with warped tape samples that DIIV could then weave into the worlds they were trying to build. And Smith became a father in November 2022, prompting a three-month pause as he wrestled with a central, difficult question at home: How could he lyrically conjure a dystopia with a newborn in the house, or pair the new hope he had with an honest assessment of the world he knew? It all felt like that midair moment during a complicated skateboard trick, wondering if you have what it takes to land the thing.
Again, they did: These songs mine a new lyrical and musical depth, those two halves mirroring one another inside a reflective and immersive whole. Opener “In Amber,” for instance, offers an internal existential debate about slipping out of this world, of shaking off its turmoil. The downtrodden guitars of Smith and Bailey perfectly paint this feeling for the first half, but they lift together toward the end, an act of resistance against abject despair.
Or there’s the way that Newman and Caulfield conjure a very warped and muted funk inside the rhythm section of “Soul-Net,” a prime canvas for Smith’s character study about those who have found meaning for a vacuous life through online conspiracy theories. Here is our suffering, sold and weaponized against us inside endless rabbit holes. They ride this haze into panoramic finale “Fender on the Freeway,” a chiming drift that steadily tightens and coils like a ripple of lean muscle. “You can’t unring a bell,” Smith sings, voice soft-lidded but suppliant. “We live in heaven, and we live in hell.” That is the contrast that every song on Frog in Boiling Water frames so well—the darkness of these days, an appreciation of existence itself.
On that afternoon in Echo Park, the future seemed very much in doubt for DIIV. They were exhausted, broke, and bruised, having spent four years in a four-way trust fall without knowing how it might end. Voicing concerns doesn’t always fix them, of course, but could they understand one another enough to carry on, together? They did, finally starting the process of finishing Frog in Boiling Water in the days that followed. Still, everyone in DIIV will tell you now that those conflicts—the natural result of four people whose lives have become so intertwined, trying to make art that speaks to humanity’s current place on a complicated precipice—still exist. To some extent, they remain an engine inside of their art.
That is, in many ways, the essence of Frog in Boiling Water, a record about doing your best to carry on in spite of oft-grim prospects. While making Frog in Boiling Water, DIIV taxed their bonds and brotherhood, pushing themselves to the brink as a band, as buds. The result, however, is a mesmeric testament to enduring, to envisioning anything else on the other side while you remain here, in the slowly heating water of right now.