DIIV: Is the Is Are

The Brooklyn-based band seems either unwilling or incapable of taking the artistic steps to make music that isn't just more of what they've done before.


Is the Is Are

Label: Captured Tracks
US Release Date: 2016-02-05
UK Release Date: 2016-02-05

Zachary Cole Smith has a lot of ambition for his music, or at least he says he does. The songwriter and principal player behind Brooklyn indie-rock band DIIV has been through quite a bit in the years since the band broke out in 2012, and in recent interviews leading up to the release of Is The Is Are, Smith has talked about that as important for both him and the band’s development. After listening to the album, though, one gets the impression it would have been wiser for Smith to temper his praise for his own work. The fact is that Is the Is Are is very much the sort of record one would have expected from DIIV, only with more songs and a few hints at what could have been.

The sort of jangle-pop that DIIV and several other bands get lumped into representing is an easy sound to like but not love. Songs tend to drift in and out of mind, leaving very little in terms of a lasting impression. I would hesitate to point to DIIV as the archetype for this style, but they definitely hold very close to it. On Oshin, the moments that moved away from this style were just that: moments, accents, nothing that would indicate a less conservative approach to songwriting. Is the Is Are has more of these moments, such as the squeals of feedback that pop in and out of “Bent (Roi’s Song)” and “Mire (Grant’s Song)", most of Is the Is Are doesn’t break new ground or find new shades in the band’s palate. In fact, the only real breath of fresh air comes early on in the form of “Blue Boredom", an evil little number that features a fairly atypical performance from Sky Ferreira.

Otherwise, this is a DIIV record, which means that there are jangly guitars, reverb, and Smith’s barely-audible vocals. At their best, DIIV have this sound down pat, and songs like “Under the Sun” and the title track are pleasing offerings of ringing indie-pop with a hint of Krautrock influences. It’s fine, but it’s all too familiar in the end. In that sense, Is the Is Are is, for all its faults, not the kind of record that’s worth getting frustrated over.

That is, it wouldn’t be a frustrating album if it weren’t for Smith’s promise of something greater. The man has claimed that the turbulent goings-on since Oshin’s release -- including a drug arrest--inspired this album. Furthermore, given Smith’s open adoration of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain, one would expect a more open album this time around. Alas, that’s not what we get here. If there is some sort of emotional bloodletting happening on Is the Is Are, it’s being obscured under a haze of reverberating guitars and willfully obtuse lyrics. It’s hard to tell if there’s any there there, despite Smith’s insistence. Either the album is emotionally barren, or Smith has failed to convey what he really feels in these songs.

At 17 tracks, Is the Is Are runs long. That tracklist has the appearance of some sort of grand statement, but that depends if 17 DIIV songs fit your notion of what a “grand statement is". At its best, Is the Is Are is a fine album with plenty of immediate pleasures to offer. However, digging deeper won’t unveil anything really tangible. As much as Smith may say he wants to get real, he’s clearly more comfortable living in a hazy dream.





Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".


The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?


Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.


Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.


Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.


Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.


Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.


Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.


Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.


Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.