Released: February 5, 2016
Label: Captured Tracks
Little pieces of a blatantly fragmented sentence make up the title to DIIV’s coveted follow up to 2012’s Oshin. Seemingly reaching beyond their creative limits at first glance with an odd album title, the band are more than meets the eye on their follow up to their well received debut record. Is the Is Are arrives in the midst of an evolving post-punk revival scene, taking a congested bag of influences and attempting to create an album worthy of its predecessors. Even since Oshin, many a band have burst forth onto the scene hoping to stir some of the same magic that made the decades past such a magical creative apex. Isn’t that how the scene appears to unfold as of late? The creed of bands in the late seventies and eighties, the true pioneers of post-punk and new wave sounds, capitalized on the conscious of their fans desperate for change. A new revolution was seeded in culture’s spreading from the UK to the US; a saga was being created, one of purpose and justice in the way people treated music and ethics, but also how that tailored to politics and how they lived their lives. Music was more or less a release from the confines of society for the rock and roll visionaries and subsequent punk rockers, but post-punk was a progressive ideology that naturally built on these ideals itself.
Enter DIIV here in 2016. No strangers to their own controversial antics in the period between debut and sophomore records, Zachery Cole Smith and crew search for the historical post-punk staples of the past to craft a dreamy sound much like on their debut, but with a few twists. Quick observation of track listing reveals an eerily similar layout to their most obvious musical influence, The Cure. Is the Is Are spans seventeen tracks, and much like Robert Smith’s ever increasing glimmers of joy from album to album (Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me), Cole has taken careful notes, watched the tapes, and walked in the shoes of that a student of sonic revelation. DIIV are stretching beyond the normal measures of what a band like The Cure was, or even what contemporaries would see as fit in the creative process without capsizing. Their sound is quite the collection of sonic textures, reaching in small portions, samples of both familiar instrumentation (dream pop, post-punk) and newer experimentation (shoegaze, neo-psychedelia). Again, the extended album run time allows for many patterns of familiarity, that of what makes DIIV good, but the numerous amount of songs also possesses rehashing of material in the same time span. For a savvy listener in the movement, they can take the seventeen songs with a grain of salt. It can work as background music, but on a deeper level, the substance of tracks like “Take Your Time” exemplify a band capable of more than just three minute reverb-drenched medleys. The jangle-pop guitars are a consistent factor, yet Smith’s vocals carry a sweet innocence in the melody, despite how dark the subject material may appear.
Ask a myriad of different listeners, and opinions can sway drastically as to whether or not DIIV have created an album worth the light of day, let alone coming back here with a huge batch of new songs. Either way you look at it, credit is due at the least to the band’s developing sound beyond the simplistic execution on Oshin. Right down to the production and musical ability, DIIV show on Is the Is Are that creating an enjoyable listen is nothing short of poetic prowess and careful contemplation of the people and cultures that have influenced their sound. There are plenty of curveballs to keep things interesting too, branching from Zachery Cole Smith featuring girlfriend and fellow musician Sky Ferreira on “Blue Boredom”, to utilizing unorthodox feedback and noise in the guitars and other techniques on tracks like “Dust”. Any guitar driven rock songs seem to be an anomaly in this day and age, and although DIIV aren’t reinventing the wheel, they are the spark towards someone stepping up in the future and doing just that. To those that find the extended play time and derivative sound dreary, that is completely understandable. This record isn’t for everyone, not because it is inaccessible, but because it tends to suffer from a formulaic implementation. However, at its heart, Is the Is Are is completely aware from a tributary perspective. Their sleeves are chock-full of the authoritative voices of a movement they hope to recreate, and the next logical step in DIIV’s growing sound is completed to a satisfactory level.