With soundscapes that are as expansive as they are immersive, DIIV brandish an immediately infectious brand of melodic dream pop, underpinned by pounding drums and the band’s signature guitar attack. Now, nearly four years on from their 2012 debut ‘Oshin’, DIIV have returned with ‘Is the Is Are’, an album in large part colored by lead singer Zachary Cole Smith’s substance abuse issues (read our interview with the frontman).
In 2013, Smith was busted with heroin, an event which nearly halted his promising progress with DIIV and undoubtedly derailed the band’s pursuit of a punctual follow-up album. With a period of inactivity taking its toll on the band’s creative output, the 17 songs and nearly 63 minutes that make up ‘Is the Is Are’ certainly feel like a statement - DIIV, and Smith in particular, have something to prove: specifically, that DIIV ought to be upgraded from their status as just another promising guitar band in the vein of dream-poppers Wild Nothing or Beach Fossils, and instead spoken of in the same breath as one of their highly successful and innovative Captured Tracks contemporaries, indie rock darling Mac DeMarco.
‘Is The Is Are’ gets off to a rolling start with powerfully charging drums and reverb-drenched guitar licks in ‘Out Of Mind’, and continues into the energetic romp ‘Under the Sun,’ where a throbbing bassline takes the listener by the hand before being accompanied by intricately added-in drums and layered guitars. With two buzzing tracks beginning proceedings, the dark, piercing guitar hooks and metronomic drumming on ‘Bent (Roi’s Song)’ provide the album with its strongest, most refined moments. Calling it his favorite track on the album, Smith’s lyrics here are particularly pointed, painting a dark landscape riddled with references to his destructive drug issues, and bearing a weight usually absent from DIIV songs thanks to Smith’s notoriously vague take on songwriting - “fought my mind to keep my life, but my body’s putting up a tougher fight.”
The record’s fourth track and first single ‘Dopamine’ provides some of the album’s last truly standout moments - ‘Is the Is Are’ drops off precipitously beginning with the drab and dreary barrenness of ‘Blue Boredom’, which features Sky Ferreira, Smith’s partner, on vocals. With a series of slower, darker, and more brooding tracks following, the initial rush of the album’s high energy opening numbers quickly fades, and is broken up only by the burst of energy provided by the record’s lively title track, with the band largely relegated to fumbling around with songs which appear sluggish and lacking energy by comparison.
With the typical pattern of muttered lyrical verses followed up by heavy drops into chorus’ marked by ringing guitar hooks, it becomes readily apparent that DIIV attach more value to driving momentum and climactic builds than they do tempo changes and varied patterning; a trait which ultimately leaves the pace-setting snare-drumming and indulgent guitar hooks on ‘Is The Is Are’ feeling redundant and overly predictable.
In a genre already brimming with four piece guitar bands, ‘Is The Is Are’, despite Smith’s darker lyrics functioning more centrally, too often fails to keep from sounding derivative and phoned-in, even hollow at times; and, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Smith and company would have been better suited producing a more concise effort - 17 tracks seems far too long-winded for a band with seemingly so few novel ideas.
While sweetened by a potent handful of emphatic guitar romps, DIIV’s latest record quickly overstays its welcome, and ultimately would do well to be remembered as more than just a watered-down collection of indie rock songs.
Words: Noveen Bajpai
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