IS THE IS ARE? by DIIV
Genre: Dream Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Under The Sun,” “Bent (Roi’s Song),” “Blue Boredom (featuring Sky Ferreira),” “Is The Is Are?,” “Mire,” “Loose Ends,” “(Napa),” “Dust”
Didn’t this all start out as a bedroom project when we still thought Beach Fossils were interesting?
IS THE IS ARE? is still obviously a DIIV record, complete with droning, jangly guitars, and lush, reverberating vocals harking back to their debut, OSHIN. However, this time there is a newfound maturity that permeates the LP. OSHIN, on the other hand, was in many ways just a Beach Fossils record. DIIV’s creative core, Zachary Cole Smith, previously played drums with Beach Fossils, as well as guitar for Darwin Deez, and though there were some aspects that set DIIV apart from Beach Fossils, namely its atmosphere (how much different can you get with indie music in the 10s, anyway), OSHIN wasn’t much more than that; an easy record to write off because it was just so indie rock, dude. OSHIN’s appeal grew from its nostalgic, ironically drugged-out atmosphere (not so ironic for the band members though) and its being a new facet to the sound Beach Fossils, Real Estate, and Wild Nothing brought to the table. But really, there wasn’t much more to it, and maybe there didn’t need to be. What’s so impressive about IS THE IS ARE?, however, is its ability to move past OSHIN’s juvenile sound into a more personal and genuine realm.
Rather than being merely a drugged-out indie record, IS THE IS ARE? was born out of a space where the members of DIIV were literally forced to move beyond those themes. In the tumultuous years between OSHIN and IS THE IS ARE?, Smith dealt with drug issues that were brought into the public eye after his arrest with Sky Ferreira in an incident that has been all too talked about in music media publications. Controversy was also stirred up after the band’s bassist made some rather offensive comments on 4chan and was almost kicked out of the band. And to cap it all off, their drummer had to take a break from DIIV due to his own struggles with drug abuse, only partially able to record drums on IS THE IS ARE?, being mostly replaced by Ben “Wolf” Newman, who made a few contributions to the recordings on OSHIN. But as oft talked about as it is, Smith’s spiral and subsequent recovery played an integral part in the writing and recording of IS THE IS ARE?, as most of the songs’ lyrical content was written in rehab or just after getting out.
And don’t worry, it doesn’t sound exactly like OSHIN! Especially on the second half of this expansive double LP; tracks like “Mire” push DIIV out of their comfort zone with heavy feedback and a bass solo closing off the song. Through much of the record, Smith’s vocals are at the forefront rather than being pushed back into the texture of the songs, and for good reason too; the lyrics are just spot-on, and the Sky Ferreira feature feels natural and well placed within the overall sound of the record. Even a piano is tossed in on “Healthy Moon,” warbling off at the end like a Thom Yorke tune.
All in all, rather than being a record that a bunch of nihilistic kids are inevitably going to listen to while smoking weed and wishing for oblivion (they live in the suburbs, after all), IS THE IS ARE? sonically and lyrically shakes the listener out of that self-destructive-pleasure-death mindset. Although being a much darker record than its predecessor, IS THE IS ARE? has good reason, or at the very least has a greater purpose. Given what’s been stated thus far, it is important to note that while nearly every track on this record has some relation to Smith’s drug abuse, he still is absolutely not glorifying it. In a way, it’s about digging yourself out of your hole and the optimism that is waiting in doing so. Yeah DIIV’s record still might sound cool to get high to, but the lyrics are sure to make one stop and think ‒ “wait, what the fuck am I doing with myself.”
Tracks like “Yr Not Far” and “Take Your Time” ask the listener to keep pushing and move through whatever awfulness they may be going through. And while being in substance, a record about addiction, it’s presented in such a way that these songs could be about any sort of tumult, habit issue, or depressive episode that one may be dealing with. In that, IS THE IS ARE? demonstrates a hope for the future, but doesn’t try to sugarcoat the really shitty stuff in the present or recent past; that’s all a part of the process, too. In the end, this LP comes off as a much more mature, profound, and optimistic record than its predecessor, despite its tortured origins, but maybe because of them.
It’s also nice that out of the 300+ songs written for IS THE IS ARE?, the seventeen-second “(Fuck)” made it on the hour-long LP.