Is The Is Are is the highly anticipated and long awaited sophomore album from the New York Jangle Pop pioneers, DIIV. It comes four years after their critically acclaimed debut Oshin, an album that drew comparisons to modern bands like Real Estate and Beach House as well as other acts such as My Bloody Valentine and Ride.
The band started writing and recording the album back in 2013 when it was actually supposed to be released but a plethora of problems caused a large delay; the main issue being lead singer, Zachary Cole Smith, being addicted to heroin and trying to get help for it after one heavily publicised incident in which him and his girlfriend, Synthpop artist Sky Ferreira, were caught with an undisclosed amount of the substance. The band restarted the album’s creation in 2015 after initial sessions with ex-Girls bassist Chet White didn’t go down too well for whatever reason – it was also at this time in which their drummer left the band last Spring to get help with his own personal struggle with drug addiction but the band carried along nonetheless and ended up finishing the record.
The album kicks off with Out of Mind, a track that sets the tone and mood of the album down to a tee with all of the instrumentation as well as the vocals being completely drenched in reverb the whole way throughout the album. I didn’t really think much of the album’s opener, even during my repeated listens of the album – it was good but kind of forgettable, a sad trait that some of the other songs on the LP carry too.
The album really begins to pick up on the third track Bent (Roi’s Song) because of its extremely dreamy and hazy sounds that are carried by a swirling guitar lead that’s reminiscent of something that could have appeared on Girls’ final album. The song is quite slow and I can’t seem to get my head around the lyrics but the blissful instrumentation instantly makes the track a highlight for me. ‘Bent’ is then followed by the album’s lead single Dopamine, a very summer-y and catchy track with lyrics that deal with an addict suffering from heroin withdrawal. While it isn’t the best track on the record, it is one of the most immediate and accessible and actually works really well as the album’s lead single because it’s really quite straight forward and it’s dreamy to the point in which you could just lose yourself in it for days on end.
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Blue Boredom features Synthpop songstress Sky Ferreira doing her best Kim Gordon impression and it all pays off with really mixed results. The track really annoyed me upon my first few listens because I viewed it as a blatant Sonic Youth rip-off, which in all honesty – it is to a certain extent. It sounds like an outtake from Evol or Sister only it’s drenched in even more reverb and the guitars are actually in tune. I wasn’t really a fan of this song but at least Sky Ferreira is trying something different here and it makes me wonder what her next record is going to sound like.
Valentine and Yr Not Fair are great examples of the excellent instrumentation this record has to offer, from Valentine’s illuminating guitar leads to Yr Not Fair’s post-punk-y bass line and drum rhythms. I genuinely do believe that the instrumentals on this record are its main selling point as opposed to Zachary Cole Smith’s vocals and lyrics because you kind of just get lost in the actual music while Zachary’s vocals are buried in the mix so much to the point in which they’re almost inaudible at times. This isn’t a bad thing at all because I’m a very big fan of Kevin Shield’s ethos of ‘using vocals as an instrument’ that is very prevalent as far as Dream Pop and Shoegaze acts are concerned.
My main complaints about the record come in the form of it sounding very same-y, particularly during the latter end of the album and because some of the tracks drag on a bit too long – they could have easily shaved ten minutes off of this release. The interludes (Fuck) and (Napa) are dull and unnecessary and could have easily been left out of the album and out of their discography in general. The samey-ness of the album also makes a lot of its sections quite forgettable too but the good moments really do outweigh the dull and mediocre moments that are scattered across the album.
Is The Is Are is a very vibrant, hazy and dreamy album that is let down a bit by its excess duration and it all kind of sounding the same towards the end but that really shouldn’t put you off because it has a lot to offer and the highlights are really quite fantastic.