Do what you’ve got to do to get comfortable because this is a mammoth of an album. Currently performing at Laneway, DIIV back from the brink and three years of pathos with their sophomore release Is the Is are. While I’m sure they would change some things from those three years, the struggles the band faced have allowed them to create an incredibly powerful and immersive record.
What does it take to look the worst moments of your life in the face and withstand them? DIIV bring the melancholy and the fight on a truly epic journey into pain and addiction.
After the band’s fantastic debut Oshiin, frontman Zachary Cole Smith became somewhat of a celebrity. The band had been acclaimed and were destined for stardom. He started dating glamourous singer Sky Ferreira (who also features on two tracks here), landed a modelling gig and fame laid its cruel hands all over him, as did drug addiction. Pretty soon he found himself arrested, jailed, and checked into rehab.
Now he had seen both sides of the spotlight, the one that loves you and the one that condemns you. It will suffice to say this album is a touch darker than Oshiin, but Smith’s tribulations were terrific fodder for a triumphant comeback double-album, all of which he wrote alone, and some while he was still in rehab.
DIIV are a band that let their guitars and drums lead the way, with Smith’s shoegazey vocal reflections often requiring careful listening to decipher. On Oshiin it didn’t matter so much because it was a happier album that just revelled in its craft. Here though it will be worthwhile to pick up what Smith is laying down as he delves deep into the pain of being a heroin addict. Is the Is are is an album of ups and downs that mirrors Smith’s own personal journey. Sometimes we feel hope, such as on the bright ‘Under The Sun’ but more often we are blended into crushing darkness that speaks of the loneliness Smith endured while putting the pieces back together and working on the record.
Lines such as “Fought my mind to keep my life, but my body’s putting up a tougher fight” on Bent (Roi’s Song) and “last time I walked down this street I wanted to die” on Is The Is Are abound throughout and there is ample opportunity for some listeners to find the serious, sad overtones too much to bear, however Smith grits his teeth and periodically gets his head above water with songs that speak of overcoming huge challenges. After all, what could be more satisfying than fighting death and winning? This isn’t an album you can walk away from.
Full of melody and riffs that simply never quit, Is the Is are is a record to put on repeat 3 or 4 times because while it’s immediate, it will take time to fully digest – it’s that dense. The all-encompassing walls of sound will pull you in but you won’t understand it at first. DIIV’s habitat is one you must occupy for a period of time in order to fully appreciate the dynamic nature of the album.
On one hand you might say this is a nicely executed dream pop album full of energy, undeniable chords, and lulling vocals that is a little overlong; but when you find its personal narrative it becomes a bigger monster. The difference here is that each song feels so alive because Smith was very aware of his own mortality while making it.
This type of music itself is addictive, looping keys, overlapping melodies, drums that stand as solid as a foundation but then build up like a post-rock epic, riffs that can sound as sweet as a peach and as bitter being alone in winter. Smith succeeds completely in making you feel what he was feeling and it’s quite a journey just for the listener, let alone Smith himself.
At 17 tracks long I won’t go in depth about many songs in particular (and in fact all the tracks seem essential) but Under The Sun, Bent (Roi’s Song), Dopamine, Take Your Time, Is The Is Are, and Healthy Moon are all brilliant highlights.
A three-year hiatus hasn’t hurt DIIV. If anything they have made a better album the second time around and their ability to become immediately relevant again says a lot about their talent.[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/242592705″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]