3 Feb 2016

DIIV / Is The Is Are (album review)

The second record by Brooklyn dream-pop outfit is one plagued by the narrative as to how it came unto the world. Following the quiet release of dreamy debut Oshin,  the band's fanbase grew and grew, to the point that the band had become one of the most renowned indie bands purely through their lack of presence in the UK. Oshin landed mid-2012 to critical success, but since then, the band have been plagued by worries and difficulties that ultimately contribute to the almost grotesque self-mythology cum cliché that frontman Zachary Cole Smith is determined to live out.

In 2013, amidst a UK tour, Smith and his girlfriend Sky Ferreira were arrested for having a few too many drugs (heroin, ecstasy, etc) in their car. Which was stolen. At the end of the same year they were embroiled in scandal because it came to light that their bassist Devin Ruben Perez had been abusing fellow musicians via the forum of 4chan. For whatever reason, Perez made a half-baked half apology and at that point I became increasingly disillusioned by the band; were they all that great?

At the same time, Smith was using his rare, in-depth interviews as an opportunity to say how daring and different and important the Is The Is Are record would be. He cited Elliott Smith. He said it was going to be much darker, more diverse. It wouldn't just be dream-pop. And above all he said it was 'life or death', and his 'last chance for redemption'. Just let that all sink in a second.

So when formulaic Dopamine - still a brilliant track - dropped, you couldn't help but feel that all this stuff Smith had been saying about changing up his sound was bullshit. Still field leading, Dopamine is an average, summery pop song, with a brilliant middle 8 making it one of the best songs the band have released so far

Following that, they released 4 more songs, all of which hinted that Cole Smith's idea of diversity probably isn't as diverse as you or I's idea of it. Bent and Mire are a bit more off the beaten track, with deadpan Bent probably being a bit of a misfire (it drags on for 6 minutes of dissatisfying whim) and Mire being a solid effort, if not a shameless Sonic Youth slash Primary Colours pastiche. Alongside that came Under the Sun, the epitome of second rate dream-pop (killer middle 8 though), revolving around a relatively simple chord progression and lyrics that are so meaningless that even a page of whining on tumblr couldn't add any anchorage too.

The final song we were shown a preview of (outside of the live environment) was Is The Is Are, which is kind of representative of the rest of the record. Deep bass, emerging from pits of reverb, it's quite aggressive, and I can imagine written for a chaotic live show, an area where DIIV came into their own when touring Oshin. It's structurally quite basic, but yanno; it's still a pretty decent song.

So going into this album, I wouldn't say I had high hopes, but I was definitely expecting an enjoyable listen that was less of a Mire and more of a Valentine ha ha. But what I got was something that was a complete chore to listen to; an hour of identikit dream-pop songs is a bit tough at the best of times, but when every track is indistinguishable from one another, it's a marathon. Listening to this DIIV album enough times to review it properly was so excruciating that I am now radicalized against all forms of revivalist guitar music. In fact, over the course of writing a review, I also emailed the Quietus asking for a work experience. Is The Is Are is that kinda album.

It's not like this is a dire album; it's not. There's about 6 really quite good songs on it, but this should have been through a filter. There is nowhere near enough material on this album to make up a double LP, and a 10 song album would probably be pushing it.

We'll start with the positives; Zachary, what's good? Loose Ends is a gorgeous number, with a brilliant helixing guitar motif - it's like the best tracks on Oshin, you can listen to it for hours and never get tired of it. Blue Boredom is an (although incomplete feeling) absolutely gorgeous track where Sky Ferreira's vox are effortlessly cool, and on aforementioned Dopamine, Mire and also Valentine DIIV reach that kinda notorious dreamy sound that so many bands try and rip off of them.

But the thing is, songs like Yr Too Far and Out of Mind are really so repetitive, and have about as much distinctive character traits as Liam Neeson would if he were playing Chris Martin in a biopic. Dust is turned from a ravenous live beast into a needlessly comlplex dream-pop dead hand wank. The band's sound is generally more conservative throughout the record, more innoffensive, and if this is Cole Smith's 'last chance at redemption', that boy's damned for all eternity.

Removed of context, DIIV's Is The Is Are is a really boring album which I would prefer to never hear again. It drags more than a Singapore Grand Prix, it has more filler than a Damien Rice boxset, and it's high points get lost in the mass sea of insufferably dull tracks. Add the context in - and god, this is the shoegazing Be Here Now. It took 4 years for them to come up with, countless hyperbole and self mythologising drivel on behalf of Smith, and a nauseating amount of hype for this to be an album worth your time.


(written by calum cashin)