DIIV – Is the Is Are
Released February 5th, 2016 on Captured Tracks
Is the Is Are, the second album from Brooklyn indie darlings DIIV, had a hard birth. The difficulty boils down to the failings of the various band members, all of whom have issues with drugs. A Bushwick denizen I know once told me that you could spot the members of DIIV all over the neighbourhood, and they were always strung out; certainly enough incidents have occurred that there is some truth to this bit of gossip. The most high profile of course was the arrest of frontman Zachary Cole Smith along with his girlfriend Sky Ferreira, both of whom were nabbed for controlled substances (heroin and MDMA, respectively). In addition to this, drummer Colby Hewitt left the band due to his own addiction to multiple drugs, and bassist Devin Reuben Perez made a series of over-the-top offensive posts on 4chan’s /mu/ board. The band attempted a recording session in San Fransisco with former Girls frontman Chet White, but it was aborted before it was even fairly begun.
Things have quieted down for the band, to an extent. The second album was finally recorded. Smith went to rehab. New drummer Ben Newman stepped in to fill Hewitt’s role and you’d never notice the difference. Perez has learned, I suppose, the value of the anonymity granted by 4chan and learned to make his bizarre and disgusting statements under the Anonymous handle, or at the very least under some other tripcode. Having come through the other side, the band should have put out a second album that transcends where they’d come from and amalgamated all of their experience into something truly great.
Is the Is Are is not that album.
My problem with Oshin, their debut album, was that it was basic indie rock with a ton of reverb thrown on top. Critics and audiences responded well to it because it was familiar and a little haunting, just enough to make it feel like there was some edge to it. Despite the big names Smith was throwing around during the lead-up to the release – Elliot Smith, Royal Trux, Can, Neu! – this record feels like a longer and more doubled-down take on the sound of Oshin. It appropriates Joy Division’s ghostly atmosphere without retaining any of the heart; it strives for the milieu of the Stone Roses without having any of the stately psychedelic confidence. The Krautrock references contain themselves mostly to a vague sense of motorik rhythms in the drumming; the experimentation of those late Seventies German bands is nowhere in sight. In the end it’s a DIIV record, no more and no less, just one that’s a little longer than their debut.
If you like haunted-sounding, reverb-laden indie rock guitar lines, DIIV will be your thing. With all of the controversy and struggle surrounding the band, though, you can be forgiven for asking for something more.