DIIV – Is The Is Are

It’s not often we review an album so long after its release, but it’s worth making an exception for Brooklyn based Dreampop outfit DIIV. Their sophomore effort Is The Is Are is a curious beast, a record with a lengthy list of reasons why it shouldn’t work as spectacularly well as it does.

It’s safe to say that the follow up to their well received 2012 debut Oshin found its way into the world only after undergoing a fraught and difficult birthing process. Main man Zachary Cole Smith’s struggles with addiction led to a well publicised arrest in 2013 and a spell in rehab. They then found themselves drawing further negative attention when their bassist made some unsavoury remarks on an online forum.

The pressures of releasing the difficult second album were compounded by Smith’s perfectionism; release dates were pushed as Smith tweaked and altered the songs until he was finally satisfied. The result is a sprawling 17 song double album that is unwavering it its focus. There is no real progression in terms of their sound from their debut. One of the criticisms levelled at that debut was that all the songs sound very similar – that criticism is not going away with this follow up; if anything, it is even more pronounced given that there are seventeen songs cut from the same cloth, so to speak.

Their sound is very linear, lacking in any real dynamism and yet, and yet….there is something here that keeps drawing the listener back. Perhaps it is the crystalline beauty of those repetitive, circular guitar riffs that pulls us in, or the Krautrock influenced rhythms that eventually forces submission. Whatever it is, it’s an album that I keep coming back to again and again, almost six months after its release.

The warm familiarity of opener ‘Out of Mind’ instantly recalls the Cure in their heyday while ‘Under the Sun’ and ‘Dopamine’ place the band firmly in Dreampop territory with contemporaries like Wild Nothing. Sky Ferreira does her best Kim Gordon impression on guest vocals on ‘Blue Boredom.’  The feedback drenched ‘Mire (Grant’s Song) demonstrates that the band can kick up a gear when required but generally, they stick closely to their trademark sound, never straying too far from their reverb cocoon.

2016 marks another undistinguished year for rock music; the dearth of genuinely exciting new guitar bands is worrying. While DIIV don’t exactly herald a new age for rock, it is refreshing to hear guitars as brightly lit and as beautiful as this; Is The Is Are is a record that takes its time to reveal its wonders but stick with it; the rewards are bountiful.


4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)