DIIV has acquired quite the reputation among independent music fans over the last couple of years. For both their music and through offstage controversies, like when the bassist of the band, David Ruben Perez, was accused of making bigoted statements on the image board 4Chan. Not to mention since the release of their last album, Oshin, there have been various accusations of singer Zachary Cole Smith and his girlfriend, Sky Ferreira, of being addicted to heroin after their drug-related arrest in 2013. This is the first full-length release from DIIV in four years after receiving mostly positive reviews on their debut.
All this aside, Is the Is Are is a double LP clocking in at a little over an hour long, which sort makes it justifiable to the fans who have been patiently awaiting new material from the band. This album is not drastically different from DIIV’s first release, but manages to incorporate and improve upon the major strengths the band established on Oshin. This album does accomplish one thing I wanted to see from the band, and that is creating more thoughtful music. While Oshin was aesthetically pleasing to listen to, it seemed to lack much meaning. The band established themselves as a unique act immediately with an interesting sound, but the lyrics were a bit underwhelming. The lyrics aren’t going to blow your mind on Is the Is Are, but they are an improvement upon the bands last effort.
Probably the most stand out track is the band’s single for the release titled “Dopamine.” This can be seen as a turning point for Smith’s songwriting skills. Yes, the song is mostly about doing drugs, but it is tastefully written with a quickness that DIIV’s songs often lack. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that this song was written as a therapeutic release for Smith during one of his many rough patches. The production fits the song with a muddiness that contributes to the overall atmosphere that DIIV is striving for efficiently mixing in the layered dreamy guitar and vocal parts. It has the unique feel that all DIIV songs have and then some. “Dopamine” is one that shows a bright future for the band, and certainly illustrates that they have room for growth as a group.
“Bent” is another refreshing showcase of the band’s evolving sound. The song is dedicated to someone named Roi whom evidently is (or was) addicted to heroin. Smith’s lyrics present a hint of self-awareness in where he sings, “When it feels right you just lost the fight.” The song adds a well-defined presence for the band that is an improved sound from that of Oshin. “Bent” may have depressing lyrics, but the guitar is utilized well and shines with hope and provides a warm feeling which elevates the song to make it have more of a melancholy feel than that of hopeless despair.
Is the Is Are is a unique portrayal of addiction that succeeds in being accessible and enjoyable without glamorizing it. The album is cohesive and should be listened to all the way through to get the full experience. The entire project was heavily influenced by Sonic Youth, and there’s indulgent feedback on the guitars plus the lyrical style which is like spoken word at times. The project has a dreamy rock-infused pop sound that would be best enjoyed on a lazy Sunday morning where noon comes around quicker than it should.
DIIV doesn’t sound depressing at earshot, but if you listen to the lyrics Zachary Cole Smith writes they are mostly defeatist with a small glimmer of hope where you can see the influence of his lifestyle that evokes the grunge era with a softer touch. You can tell that this record was made by a full band, unlike Oshin where all the instruments were recorded individually by Smith. The changes that have been made to DIIV aren’t radical, and although subtle they work in favor of the band. The overall direction of the band is going in the right direction, and while it may not be the masterpiece that Smith hoped to achieve, that’s not to say it won’t happen because I think DIIV has yet to release their magnum opus.