Maybe the singles were promising something too much. They seemed to suggest that there might be some variation for DIIV’s new album by the way of the Cure influences, but as it turns out Is The Is Are has some problems with variation. It wasn’t like they haven’t done it before – Oshin was already ten minutes too long at 40 minutes and tracks that smushed into each other. So when Is The Is Are, a double album, is finally released, it begs the question ‘Why?’. After several listens, the tracks are no less stitched together, and not in an experimental Pink Floydian way. They just have a very shocking similarity between each other. The worst part is the album was looking incredibly exciting from the singles ‘Dopamine’ and ‘Bent (Roi’s Song)’ that dropped early on, but now they simply fade into the reverby wash of Is The Is Are. The album is beyond disappointing, suffering from the curse of perfectionism and over-reliance on the same sounds.
It’s not like the band haven’t become better, because they have. The playing has got significantly better in all sections, the drums on ‘Mire (Grant’s Song)’ and gloomy bass, plus vocals that sound like Zachary Cole Smith whispering death threats and then screaming leading to their most Cure-sounding song yet. If they had continued with this sound, maybe there would have been some memorable songs, but that’s mostly wishful thinking. It would take a radical sidestep in order to force DIIV into making different songs that don’t consist of a dreamy guitarline, staggered drums and Smith’s vocals. At least the band tried to make Smith’s voice more of a centre-point for the rest of DIIV to pivot around and the (much better) production attempts to bring him and his lyrics front and centre. Whether they actually achieve this is unclear, as it’s very hard to pick out his best vocal take or a lyric that really popped out, which is a shame because Smith’s lyrics speak a lot about the controversial time between Oshin and Is The Is Are including his drug habits and his relationship with Sky Ferreira, who also features on ‘Blue Boredom’.
Smith doesn’t try to hide his drug lyrics behind metaphors, a track like ‘Dopamine’ or ‘Mire’ is pretty clear on trying to get clean and having mixed results. However, most of the time it would take several listens or following Smith’s lyrics intently to try and separate it from the instrumental side of the band. Much like Oshin, Smith’s vocals are more like another instrument for the band; the sound that he’s making isn’t words, it’s just another dreamy tool. Smith repeatedly references Kurt Cobain in his interviews and making comparisons would be pointless against one of the most influential musicians of all time, but to put it bluntly DIIV’s songs on Is The Is Are have very little similarities with Nirvana’s, from the genre to the lyrical quality.
DIIV have come under a lot of fire in their sphere of popularity and Is The Is Are was meant to be the solution to all of Zachary Cole Smith’s problems. It was meant to show everyone that he wasn’t another headline, but he could actually make a good album too (with a chance for some commercial success too) so why make a double album? Surely another 40 minutes of (better) dream-pop would have sufficed? But no, instead we have an hour of music that has very little distinguishable features and serves as a showcase for why spending too long on a record can have its negative effects. The mixture of the hype and having too much time to ‘polish’ has left Is The Is Are as a hollow album. It’s all surface and very little content. Where there is content, especially Smith’s much better lyrics, it’s smoothed over with several layers of shoegaze instrumentation that’s the same as the last. The tracks will likely be better live, where DIIV tend to kick the tempo up and the songs take less of a mid-tempo plodding.
Funnel Recommends: Bent / Dopamine / Mire