Aural Cascades: Drop Electric and DIIV

I relish daydreams and reveries. Always have. In fact, I probably spent the better part of my childhood re-scripting scenes and episodes from countless comic books. So it should come as no surprise that I’m drawn to epic, sweeping works that engender imaginative forays and leaps, or, Rabbit-Hole Music as I like to call it.

What’s that you say? Yes, as in going down the Alice in Wonderland Rabbit-Hole: a topsy-turvy, inversion of our own “reality” that is all too familiar yet underpinned by a slightly askew (il)logic; an interior space that is boundless, limitless and always exploding with infinite possibilities. (And, no, I’ve not been drinking any sort of Kool-Aid of late.) In other words, these are the types of songs and sounds from somewhere to which you’ve never traveled yet remind you of places you’ve been.

What are the touchstones or unique traits of these types of songs?

  • Often they contain minimal vocals.
  • To the extent that there are vocals, the vocals are complimentary to the instruments and not the driving or focal point of the song.
  • Apt or apropos descriptors or adjectives would be filmic or atmospheric.
  • The music inspires the sense of “awe-inspiring” or produces a “trance-inducing” state.

Artists such Sigur Ros, Explosions in the Sky, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Mogwai are the standard bearers but even some less known acts such as Mojave 3, Tortoise, or The American Analog Set would also round out this universe. If (like me) you are drawn to this amalgam of indie-rock, Shoegazer Jams, Electronic-Downtempo, 21st Century Classical Composition, and aural experimentation, then the past decade has been a wonderland of sorts.

On this note, I will add two bands that I believe are venturing in that direction and have really caught my ear of late. (There is one more band but I’ll save that for a post all their own later this week because they are my newest obsession.)

Drop Electric – “Empire Thrashed”

First, I love the band’s name and song title, both of which are very visceral and evocative. Second, this song is just mindblowingly good. Starting with a similar tempo and feel to the Postal Service’s “The District Sleep Alone Tonight” with a vaguely Joshua Tree-era U2 guitar sound, the song moves every so effortlessly and brilliantly towards this undulating and unstoppable crescendo that takes you to that moment of euphoric release that all great songs will inevitably bring you to; or as a good friend termed it long ago: it’s pop catharsis (aka Aristotle transformed from a three-act play to a four-minute song). The video that accompanies the song (see below) is just so perfectly aligned with the song: the sense of the immensity of it all in a short space of time.

Also, check out some further songs from D.C.’s Drop Electric from their bandcamp page below. (And, if you live in or around D.C., go see them live!!!)

DIIV’s Oshin

Okay, so I saw these guys open for La Sera (Katy Goodman of Vivian Girls) a couple of months back. If you read what I wrote then, please completely disregard my original impressions. It’s not that I necessarily said anything super negative, I just didn’t fawn over them all that much. I seem to recall that the lead singer vaguely reminded me of Kurt Cobain when he had that bob-cut, just between Nevermind and In Utero. I thought this was amusing considering that the band took its name from the Nirvana song “Dive”, which is how to pronounce their name and the record is pronounced “ocean”. (I can already mentally picture some of you reading this warily with a pretentiousness alarm ringing. Trust me I was there too.)

Listening to DIIV live for the first time at a small venue with a less than stellar sound system wasn’t the best introduction to this band especially considering the extended guitar instrumentals they tend to favor over the traditional “pop” song. After my initial reservation surrounding the band (I too found the odd spellings a bit much and yet…), I gave the record a listen and was pleasantly impressed. Although Oshin isn’t a groundbreaking or earth shattering album, it is a great summer record for moments of extended reflection and mental wandering – in case you are wondering, yes, I fall prey to wanderlust a lot. But back to DIIV, building off the instrumental, Goth and shoe-gazer side of British Pop Rock, this Brooklyn quartet creates musical atmospheres and textures that touch upon 60s melodic psychedelia (read early Pink Floyd and the Doors) mixed with a late 80s Anglo-Brit Pop obsession for melodious guitar lines and ornate sound schemes (think The Cure, James, Jesus and Mary Chain, and, yes, U2, again). (For those conversant in more contemporary bands, Oshin has a vague similarity to Wild Nothing’s Gemini – which is interesting considering they are touring together?!?!.)

Perhaps, it’s because DIIV evokes that whimsical flower-child British sound of my adolescence, but I find myself returning to this record with a great deal of regularity. It might also be that it is an aural tabula rasa, a blank slate, a series of “songs” with such a pleasant yet non-intrusive character that the listener can impose their own “will” and “mood” on it. What I do know is that if you need something to help guide and focus you for the morning, Oshin is the perfect spirit guide today.

Listen here to DIIV’s Oshin in its entirety here.

But, if you want a preview of the DIIV sound before going all in check out a small video sample of “Follow” below.

If you were watching MTV in the early 90s, this might actually make you smile and wonder, “where did this video come from?”


p.s. if you want to continue on the space-age synth sound, check out the First Listen for Teengirl Fantasy Tracer at NPR.  (For fans of early M83.)

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