It’s been an interesting four years for DIIV. After the release of 2012’s Oshin, DIIV’s frontman Zachary Cole Smith promised that their follow-up album would be a sprawling, 70+ minute double album – an album that would be described as their Daydream Nation, if you would. Upon listening to the new album, Is The Is Are, the echoes of Sonic Youth, The Cure, Cocteau Twins and Pixies as influences are all too apparent. It’s an ambitious effort that’s only held back by a slight sense of malaise.
In the interim years since Oshin, Smith’s heroin addiction has played out in the public eye causing the project to see delays for a few years. The resulting subject matter on Is The Is Are deals with the themes of addiction, depression, and loneliness – the prime ingredients for a post-punk/dream-pop record.
Is The Is Are excels in its use of texture and instrumentation, soaking every bit of space with reverb and low-mix vocals. Tracks ‘Under the Sun’, ‘Bent (Roi’s Song)’ and ‘Dopamine’ anchor the album’s front end. ‘Dopamine’, in particular, is a stand-out track simply for its bright, sunny instrument vibes contrasting with the lyrical subject matter of heroin withdrawal and addiction. While a fair amount of tracks use this same technique, the album, over time, starts to blend together sonically. Some genre fans would argue that’s an essential trait for dream-pop, but when spread across 17 tracks, the tedium can become pronounced. Your dream-pop/post-punk mileage may vary.
The middle section of Is The Is Are does drag, unfortunately. Songs that could have been left off the album or come across as self-indulgent fill this portion of the album. ‘Valentine’ is a nice break from the blend with its instrumentation, but you’re quickly thrown into the “This is sounding the same” predicament soon afterwards.
The final four tracks (sans ‘Napa’) bring Is The Is Are to a solid, yet slightly disappointing close. If DIIV had aimed for succinctness as opposed to indulgence, Is The Is Are would be far more engaging. As it is currently, it’s a very decent record. Again, mileage will vary according to DIIV or dream-pop/post-punk fandom, but DIIV’s savvy and know-how, even in the face of withdrawals and addiction, cannot be denied.
You can order DIIV’s Is The Is Are here.