In this day and age, it’s easy to become cynical about music. With all the speed technology has granted us, our attention spans have consequently shortened, our patience dwindling to mere nothings. To cater to these allegedly short attention spans, it doesn’t seem like such a stretch to argue that much of our music has been manufactured for success. Digital spaces have become our new structures of mass culture, where we feed on instant gratification, filling ourselves with the stuff of mass consumption: easily accessible and easily swallowed singles.
DIIV serves as a counter to that pessimism. As a new band from the Brooklyn label Captured Tracks, DIIV has earned the respect of many for their artistic thoughtfulness that seemed lost amongst the pixels, wavelengths and computer codes.
Last Wednesday at San Francisco’s Rickshaw Stop, various shades of lo-fi reverberated throughout as headliner Bleached performed with DIIV and opening act Lenz. Oakland band Lenz’s music hinted at the increasingly popular return of ’80s rock, executed with a rare breed of roughness without the excessive cheesiness the revived genre often brings. Adding to the nostalgic bliss of the show, Bleached, primarily consisting of sister duo Jennifer and Jessica Clavin of former punk band Mika Miko, performed a sun-drenched garage rock set, largely from their recent 7-inch releases Carter and Francis, in addition to newer songs and a Misfits cover.
As the headlining artist of the night, Bleached achieved what should be the goal of all headliners — they successfully excited the crowd that had waited so patiently for them. Drawing from their past experience as a punk band, combined with their relentlessly catchy songs, Bleached transformed a satiated-yet-placid crowd to a frenzied riot. The audience fell into the heavy guitar strums, pouring over onto the stage as they fanatically enjoyed every taste of the lively, characteristically Californian rock. Meanwhile, the Clavin sisters performed with humility and character. On stage, they celebrated Jessica’s birthday, putting on birthday hats, and even announced Jennifer’s arrest from the previous night.
But having a few disparate songs to perform resulted in an incoherent set, especially in comparison to the band that performed before them, DIIV. Performing completely from their first and latest release, Oshin, DIIV stayed true to their shoegaze label, spending less than a minute total looking at their audience. Rather than putting on an air of indifference, however, DIIV seemed to be making a point about something more important — their music.
In an interview with the Daily Californian, it was obvious that DIIV created Oshin with clear artistic intent, which was previously mere speculation. Originally inspired by a poem written by a young girl who misspelled ocean for “Oshin,” the album contains similar apparent errors. Within these misspelled words underlies a philosophy about music, as well as art. Throughout Oshin’s track list, the incorrect spelling that follows this poem places an importance on the sound of words and deemphasizes the importance of social formalities. This focus on the sonic whole was rendered in the actual songs as well. Oshin’s original forebear Zachary Cole Smith explained that in making the album, music was treated as a “much more democratic thing…I wanted everything to have equal importance…it’s not like the vocals jump out, everything just works together — that was the main intent. But I definitely wrote each song deliberately knowing what its place in the record would be.”
In the careful design of Oshin and the concepts that support it, DIIV discussed their goal of “making an album that’s actually an album that you listen through front to back instead of skipping through.” Rather than producing a mere collection of singles, Oshin is a true piece of art on its own, where each song contributes to a part of the greater whole. No specific song greatly overshadows the others, and the album can be read as thoughtfully as literature.
These beliefs translated into their live performance as well. Consistent with their views on music, DIIV placed themselves on the stage with no constant center, making them atypical of other bands who tend to place unintentional emphasis on the vocalist, when really, any song is nothing without the sum of its many parts. While onstage, the band members seemed nearly transcendent, drowning in a sea of lights that illuminated from behind. The band’s every movement melted into the flow of their instruments, and while they may have been the masterminds behind the sound, the focus was clearly their music. Performing with a subdued sincerity and genuine seriousness for their music, DIIV was nothing short of inspiring.