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WPGM Recommends: DIIV – Is The Is Are (Album Review)

Jangly guitars, thumping drum snares and echoing, disembodied vocals, DIIV’s sonic landscape is a familiar one, but nonetheless it’s a style that the band have managed to breathe exuberant new life into. It’s easy and becoming cliché to compare the group to other pioneering bands in their field; the nonchalant lyricism of Sonic Youth, the hazy reverb-laden guitar riffs of Cocteau Twins, the affable noise of The Jesus and Mary Chain are all channelled in Is The Is Are. DIIV, however, have crafted their own distinct flavour, making a record that’s as gripping and unskippable as it is inventive and distinguished from the contemporary post-punk scene.

Out Of Mind” opens the album, an encapsulation of all DIIV are about, in one track. Earworm guitar riffs that propel songs forward alongside Zachary Cole Smith’s lyrics, which seem far more palpable in this album, no less so on “Under The Sun“. It’s possibly the band’s most hopeful song to date, a shameless, sun soaked ode to Cole Smith’s girlfriend Sky Ferreira, who also provides a Kim Gordon-esque guest appearance on “Blue Boredom“.

“Under The Sun” is a triumphant high note on the album. It’s a stark contrast to the band’s bleak situation merely a year ago; their original drummer was reported to have left the band due to a crippling drug addition. The same fate almost befell bassist Devin Perez after he was accused of making sexist and anti-Semitic comments on internet message board 4Chan. To top it all off, Zachary Cole Smith and his girlfriend were arrested and charged with a drug possession misdemeanor in the same year.

The events could have derailed the band, and yet were a catalyst for change as the group sobered up (to an extent) to finish the album. As a result, the record is capable of giving the listener these rare glimpses of hope and euphoria. It could easily have been a different story for the Kurt Cobain-idolising lead singer.

If there was one criticism that could be levelled at DIIV’s 2012 debut Oshin, it’s the repetitiveness of the formula, even if it is a winning one. Cole Smith has noticeably broadened his palette of sound. The roaring guitar swirls around the off-key verse of “Bent (Roi’s Song)” with startling effects. Elsewhere on “Mire (Grant’s Song)“, the guitar takes a back seat to the woozy, Slowdive-y chorus. Is The Is Are pushes itself to cross new ground, without straying too far from Oshin’s initial statement of intent.

Given the band’s struggle with heroin addictions, the lyrical content therein is unsurprising and best exemplified on the track (no pun intended) “Dopamine“. It’s an infectious lead single and by far the stand out song on Is The Is Are in every sense. Every resonating guitar note is perfectly placed around the sombre words, “would you give your 45th year for a glimpse of heaven now and here?“. Unambiguous to the extreme, and yet especially poignant given the circumstances of the record’s recording.

Other album highlights come in the form of the buoyant title track, and the screeching guitars on penultimate track “Dust“. The deceptively simple staccato guitar beat on “Valentine’s” verse is almost designed entirely to be nodded along to at a live show, before the track morphs into something else entirely.

DIIV may stick to a fairly rigid method in most of their music, but Zachary Cole Smith is so undeniably good at what he does that it would be flippant and disingenuous to demand any reinvention from the band, especially as they now appear to be hitting their stride. Is The Is Are is as melodically beautiful and genuine an album as anything we’ll hear all year. DIIV’s Is The Is Are is out now via Captured Tracks, purchase it on iTunes here.

Words by Joe Horne

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