DIIV – Is the Is Are

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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.

Blank Realm – Illegals In Heaven

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Blank Realm – Illegals In Heaven

Blank Realm are an Australian band that define the term “middle-tier”.  They are a bellwether of what people are talking about when they’re talking about mainstream indie – arpeggiated near-ballads indebted to the Stone Roses broken up with the occasional more uptempo number.  They’ve never been anything particularly special, and Illegals In Heaven doubles down on this middle-of-the-road oblivion.  The album kicks off in an exciting enough manner with “No Views”, a garaged-up number that kicks along in a more galvanizing fashion than they’ve ever really managed before.  Unfortunately, it falls apart quickly after with songs that lounge and snooze rather than rally; “Costume Drama” and “Palace of Love” make an attempt at getting the party started again but it’s largely an abortive effort.  Illegals In Heaven tries to trade in on mid-tempo balladry to fill out its scant ideas, and tellingly said ballads are nowhere near the league of the uptempo pieces.

“Too Late Now”, the final track, exemplifies the real problems with this album:  it’s slavish Stone Roses worship with a ham-fisted attempt at being edgier with the vocal, and it only half-works.  It passes the time well enough, but nothing sticks around after the fact, like a dream that gets scattered and lost upon waking.