Is the Is Are
Not long before he put the finishing touches on a new DIIV record, Zachary Cole Smith told Pitchfork, "We're trying to extend the life of guitar music."
That's a hell of a goal for a band, including a controversial and critically beloved shoegaze band like DIIV. Guitar music, of course, has shown no sign of dying out, despite increasingly valid concerns that it's run its course. What Smith is saying his band wants to do is show that there are still new and interesting directions to take.
And as if that wasn't enough pressure to put on yourself, Smith has the added stress of feeling like DIIV's second album needs to be good enough to redeem everything that's happened since the 2012 debut, Oshin. He did a short stint in rehab after he and girlfriend Sky Ferreira were pulled over with heroin and ecstasy in the car in 2013 and almost kicked bassist Devin Ruben Perez out of the band for making sexist, racist and homophobic comments on 4chan in 2014. In 2015, drummer Colby Hewitt left DIIV to deal with his own substance abuse issues. Naturally, Is the Is Are is a response to all of it.
DIIV rose to its self-made challenges gracefully and thoughtfully. The guitar-driven pop that blossoms over an hour on Is the Is Are is a beautiful and probing reflection on addiction and other struggles. The band's instrumental exploration sometimes meanders into self-indulgence — helping push the album's runtime over an hour — but for the most part it's fun to follow them in the pursuit of new textures. Perez's bass is powerful force and gets equal playing time alongside Smith and Andrew Bailey's seamlessly woven guitar work. And with the help of guitarist/keyboardist Colin Caulfield and new drummer Ben Newman, DIIV becomes a perpetual motion machine.
Get too lost in all that and you might miss the emotional turmoil Smith's voice so quietly glazes over. "Bent (Roi's Song)" and "Dopamine" look substance abuse in the face, which of course requires a look in the mirror. "You are the sun and I am your cloud," Smith sings in half apology and half self-pity. And so it goes throughout the album as DIIV works through its problems and looks for hope or healing, in the end sighing that "it's no good."
It all amounts to an ambitious, dense and detailed record — the kind you could spend hours with, peeling apart the layers. Is the Is Are might not be rock's saving grace, but it's a testament to its power.
Ashley Dean, HeyReverb.com
Other notable releases:
Ane Brun, When I'm Free
Jason Collett, Song and Dance Man
Game Theory, Lolita Nation (reissue)
Elton John, Wonderful Crazy Night
Foxes, All I Need
Junior Boys, Big Back Coat
Wiz Khalifa, Khalifa
KING, We Are KING
nonkeen, the gamble
Nothing But Thieves, Nothing But Thieves
The Pines, Above the Prairie
Sunflower Bean, Human Ceremony