By Yvonne Villasenor
After nearly four years of anticipation from fans, DIIV released a new album, Is The Is Are, on February 5, 2016. The New York indie rock band released their debut album, Oshin, in 2011 and left listeners longing for more material.
The years between the release of Oshin and Is The Is Are were filled with turmoil for DIIV members. Frontman, Zachary Cole Smith, became addicted to heroin in 2013, which would unfortunately cause a massive delay to the process of putting out their sophomore album. At the peak of their popularity, addictions amongst members led to jail-time, rehabilitation and even resulted in drummer, Colby Hewitt, departing from the band just last spring.
After spending time in rehab, Smith revitalized his motivation to write music and had a great amount of support from pop singer and girlfriend, Sky Ferreira. He took (and still takes) a lot of inspiration from Nirvana (their name is derived from the song title, “Dive”after all…) and became even more captivated by Kurt Cobain’s legacy after experiencing a similar lifestyle.
“I know I have to stay alive at least until the album’s done. This is one shot at immortality, if I ever have one. I know it’s by far the most important thing I’ll ever do. That’s very empowering, no matter what fucked-up shit is going on…” -Cole Smith in June 2015
Is The Is Are was written and produced by Cole Smith himself. Prior to its release, Smith was proud about the turn out of the record and was looking forward to showing the world what DIIV was capable of creating.
It is an astounding album, to say the absolute least. Considering the band’s rocky history, it is miraculous DIIV even put out another album. Whether or not it is better than Oshin is up to listeners to conclude, but the modifications made, such as more audible vocals, really makes for a nice change.
Smith wanted his messages to be heard clearly this time around in the 17 track record. He expressed the raw emotion he experienced in participating in and kicking his reckless habits and successfully carried that emotion over into writing the album.
The record starts out with ‘Out of Mind’ that carries a melody listeners can get lost in. The fuzz of an amp entices and prepares listeners for what the album has in store…a lot of guitar. The guitar creates a warm and welcoming sound as a first track.
Sky Ferreira’s featured song, ‘Blue Boredom’ brings a touch of sugar, spice and everything nice to the record as well. It creates a Sonic Youth vibe with Ferreira’s spoken word vocals, very Kim Gordon-esque.
While some songs carry a dark, morose melody, such as ‘Valentine,’ ‘Take Your Time,’ and ‘Mire (Grant’s Song)’ there are others that while the lyrics may be dark, the melody is far more relaxed, carefree and euphoric. ‘Healthy Moon’ is the perfect representation of this and is a personal favorite off the record. Others that are just as carefree and dreamy are ‘Bent (Roi’s Song),’ ‘Dopamine’ and ‘Loose Ends.’
The final track, ‘Waste of Breath’ can best be described as a song where you can finally catch your breath, reflect and nod your head all while doing so. It is comforting in the fact that it has a slow rhythm and is merely four lines repeated throughout the five minutes that begin with, “it’s no good, it would be a waste of breath…” The compilation of notes intertwined to compose this song gives off the impression of a heartfelt farewell to listeners, leaving them satisfied with their experience.
The album is very well put together with a variation of upbeat and melancholic tunes. While DIIV may be considered more of a shoegaze band, they are more than capable of creating a noisier, grunge sound and proved it with Is The Is Are.
The lyrics to this album are highly representative of Smith’s destructive behavior and substance abuse. Their single, ‘Dopamine’, is a heavy illustration of Smith’s heroin addiction (“crawling out from a spiral down, fixing now to mix the white and brown, passing out, running in place…got so high, I finally felt like myself.”) Some lines that hold a substantial presence on the album are those off ‘Dust’ – Smith describes his crippling addiction and the difficulties that come with kicking one as serious as heroin, “it gets too bright, and your body’s a brick, I’m fucked to die in a world of shit.” But album isn’t solely about Cole Smith’s experiences with losing grip of his control over his addiction. ‘Bent (Roi’s Song)’ describes a friend of Smith’s addiction, (“I saw you with a very loose grip on your tight ship, and I lost you when you said one hit couldn’t hurt a bit”) – very powerful lines. The other song dedicated to whom we assume to be another friend, ‘Mire (Grant’s Song)’ has simple lyrics that describe what seem to be a supportive figure that gave Smith a wake-up call with the lyrics, (“I was blind, but now I see – you made a believer out of me”) Lyrically, Is The Is Are is a lot heavier than Oshin by far – there is nothing better than a personal, sincere album.
Is The Is Are was written with the intent to depict the lows of life, but it’s also meant to show that it is possible to start anew in some way, shape or form – creating this record was Smith’s way of doing so. Unsurprisingly, DIIV did a damn good job showing us that although it might have been four years since the previous album, it was well worth the wait.