DIIV, No Joy
Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro
Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015

DIIV’s leader, the opinionated Zachary Cole Smith, seems to be known for everything except his music. In recent profiles with Pitchfork and The Fader, we’ve heard some about his upcoming record, Is The Is Are. But we’ve also heard a lot about the fallout from his 2013 arrest, his triumph over heroin addiction, his bandmate’s Internet racism and his relationship with the pop singer Sky Ferreira. With all the gossip and controversy, does DIIV even need to release music anymore?

Still, onstage Thursday night at Cat’s Cradle with some new songs, Smith seemed in good spirits. Sporting disheveled, dirty-blonde hair and a wrinkled XXL Garfield tee, the diminutive bandleader grinned at the crowd. He gave a quick “Hi, we’re DIIV from New York City,” a line that he would repeat later in the set as he motioned toward his crew. They lurched into “Human,” a shimmering cut from 2012’s Oshin.

At heart, DIIV’s songs are guitar pop out of New Order’s playbook, stretched around a surfy krautrock chassis. Reverb is slathered on everything. However, new tunes during the set, including “Bent (Roi’s Song),” dialed back the delay on Smith’s voice, which previously drowned out his lyrics and gave him that marble-mouthed shoegaze cool. These new numbers sounded crisp, suggesting a move toward the sonics of the Captured Tracks labelmates of Wild Nothing. It’s not an incredibly novel change for a band that started as a Beach Fossils side project, no, but it does mean more variation. Smith has the potential to be a decent vocalist, even if he’s not quite there yet. To wit, during recent single “Dopamine,” he seemed hesistant to sing on his own, swapping his delay for harmonies with the band’s keyboardist.

NYC psych trio Sunflower Bean and Montreal shoegazers No Joy opened. On recent records, namely the stunning More Faithful LP from earlier this year, No Joy have cleaned up their sound and written some absolutely gorgeous noise-pop tunes. I was disappointed when their set did little to highlight this. The live mix buried the vocals under 600 pounds of fuzz, to the point where singer Laura Lloyd was barely audible. I get that it’s a fuck-you move to play your guitars as sludgy and loud as possible and not care whether or not the pop shines through. But having loved the crisp production on More Faithful, and having seen bands like San Francisco’s Weekend and Baltimore’s Wildhoney do loud and pretty in this style much more effectively of late, I was still let down.