Unabashed Retribution - DIIV "Is The Is Are"
In an unfortunate twist of fate, shoe gazing dreamers DIIV’s rise to attention came blanketed in the publicity surrounding frontman Zachary Cole Smith and the many personal dilemmas that emerged in his life, completely overshadowing the promising yet flawed work of debut 'Oshin'. It’s multi-faceted approach not only paid tribute to the various eras laid out before them, but presented a modern perspective on contextualised noise, and one that showed glimmers of the untapped potential DIIV posses.
Free from the restraints of an extremely public gaze and drawing from those experiences of drug abuse and rehab, Zachary has built and crafted 'Is The Is Are', a dense and approachable record full of innovative and intriguing elements, that takes the best parts of “” and expands them into panoramic soundscapes of undeniable bliss.
A sprawling collection of depth, 'Is The Is Are' shines in it’s most innovative and daring moments, when Smith pushes the boundaries of what can be expected from the New York outfit. “Mire (Grant’s Song)" is a pulsating ride of emotions, full of garage rock undertones and menace, it erupts into life with blistering distortion and passion and stands as a lightning bolt in an album that encompasses itself in atmosphere and ethereal layering.
It builds upon those dark moments that have plagued Smith’s life, none more so than “Dust” that rawly examines the hapless nature of addiction and drug dependency, it spirals into an uncontrollable rage and demonstrates how such a desperate moment can be morphed into an dangerous masterpiece.
At its' most threatening, DIIV are vital, demonstrated by “Incarnate Devil” which daggers and prowls at full flight, “Yr Not Far” with its post-punk undertones and Joy Division bass line and “Blue Boredom (Sky’s Song)” a Sky Ferreira featuring brooder which could stand easily as an unheard cut from a Sonic Youth album. The cascading pop hooks of the shimmering “Under The Sun” and the title track’s heavy Krautrock influence are diverse accompaniments to the record, and are further examples of how digestible parts of “Is The Is Are” really is.
However what cut Diiv down on “Oshin” is what ultimately appears again through “Is The Is Are”, a regular reliance on similarity and comfort. For all the LP’s daring and thrilling moments, it’s spell wears off on cuts such as “Healthy Moon” and “Valentine” where ideas seem spread and thinning whilst “Take Your Time” lacks the gravitas or feel of an ambitious and captivating band.
For a band such as DIIV so reliant on forming and establishing a multi-layered experience and aura around a record, “Is The Is Are” seems to traverse too far from its innovative core, and can seem to get bogged down in extremely similar angles all too often.
DIIV manage to blend a classic yet fresh sound throughout “Is The Is Are”, that produces some spellbinding moments of creativity that push the listener into new and refreshing grounds. With a point to prove and backed into a corner, the record dazzles under pressure and the emotional strain is evident throughout.
What holds the record down is a lack of consistency, where across the span of 17 tracks the record loses its fluid variety and morphs into a pastiche version of a 21st century shoe gazing poster boy. Despite its struggles and shortcomings, “Is The Is Are” demonstrates the talent and potential of Zachary Cole Smith, one that can hopefully now grow and develop free from the past’s unforgiving shadow.