DIIV: Is the Is Are

Scott Wallace
3rd Feb 2016

Nearly four years after Oshin, DIIV's first album of moody indie rock, the band have returned with a new album, the expansive and ambitious Is the Is Are. The record, an hour-long double album, expands on the sound of the band's debut and pushes into striking new places. Frontman Zachary Cole Smith benefits from the extra legroom he allows himself on the record, with many of the songs on Is the Is Are resounding in potent and striking ways, even if he eventually overindulges and the record verges on tedium.

Immediately, the record is firmer and more charismatic than its predecessor. Oshin often sounded laboured over to the point of impotence, but Is the Is Are has a big and relaxed sound. For most of the record, swarms of guitars and multi-tracked vocals float over relentlessly pounding backbeats, but on the record's best tracks Smith and the rest of the group have created a real sense of dynamism and flow. First single "Dopamine" earns its title with a great rush of guitar at the song's climax, a perfect addition to the song's ironically blissful dissection of addiction.

There is an undercurrent of melancholy running through the entirety of Is the Is Are, which finds Smith repeatedly confronting his own chemical dependancies. He approaches such a theme in oblique an unexpected ways, though. Often, songs will sound downright ecstatic; Take, for example, the glorious extended coda of "Bent (Roi's Song)," which, combined with the lyrics' tale of the private hell of inner turmoil, creates an almost ironic, sardonic tone.

Smith's girlfriend, model and singer Sky Ferreira, appears on standout track "Blue Boredom," where she's cast as a contemporary version of Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon at her most defiant. She talk-sings in a sensual and breathy voice, pulling every ounce of menace out of the drones and pulses with which DIIV surround her. When the strongest tracks on Is the Is Are are unpicked and unpacked, they show a thorough understanding of tone, colour and contrast that makes for a fascinating listen.

But Is the Is Are is seventeen tracks and sixty-three minutes worth of music. Arguably, the most successful double albums are the sprawling, messy ones, whereas Is the Is Are and DIIV themselves are too tight and controlled to really hold up such a lengthy album. Particularly in the album's second half, tracks like "Take Your Time" and "Incarnate Devil" fail to add any invention or urgency, and listening to the record can become tiring.

The record is frustrating, because it contains probably the best songs that DIIV have ever released, that show that it is possible to be inventive and original even while working in an established indie rock framework, but the record is in dire need of editing. There is no need for the record to run as long as it does, and as a result it loses momentum quickly. When Is the Is Are ends on the lovely, chiming "Waste of Breath," it's a reminder of the heights DIIV can reach, but you just have to get over the trough first.

Is the Is Are is out on CD, vinyl and digital formats on Friday February 5th.