DIIV displays new, improved sound with their second project

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Zachary Cole Smith and the rest of DIIV spent three troubled years developing Is the Is Are, but their hard work shows in a memorable project.

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Since the group’s first world tour in 2013, DIIV has lived a troubled existence with canceled tours, drug addictions and arrests plaguing the group’s success. After attending rehab and focusing on his music, DIIV frontman Zachary Cole Smith composed the group’s mesmerizing second album, Is the Is Are.

Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, DIIV found its initial success with 2012’s Oshin, a record which focused on a dream pop and shoegaze sound. Jangly guitars, immense reverb and murky production dominated the album, but the entire experience lacked a core element — something to drive each song’s melodies home. On Is the Is Are, released Friday, Smith finds that key component, bringing in solid guitar riffs to accompany each song’s instrumentation and provide a full and hypnotic experience.

Production is the core of any DIIV record, and Is the Is Are doesn’t skimp in that area. Every track has so many layers of instrumentation, it’s almost difficult to listen to all 17 songs in a row. There are dozens of nontraditional rock choices, including a distinct pop structure and influences from post-punk on several songs and even krautrock on their song “Valentine.”

Almost every song has its own highlight, whether it’s a distinct beat or an infectious bass groove. The most obvious improvement on DIIV’s sound, however, is its pop influence. Smith and guitarist Andrew Bailey bring a lighter mood and easy-to-follow sound to some of the better songs on Is the Is Are, including the project’s lead single, “Dopamine,” and its 13th track, “Healthy Moon.”

Although the group did hone in on each song’s melodies with lead guitar lines, Smith’s vocals still sit extremely far back in each song’s mix. These buried vocals could be enticing to some, but for most listeners, Smith’s cryptic messages and occasional vocal highlights will go unnoticed due to the album’s mixing.

Smith’s lyrical content also suffers from brevity at times, mainly during “(Napa),” when Smith repeats variations of “you will rise” throughout the song. Smith does have his shining moments lyrically, though, especially during the album’s best track, “Valentine,” when he sings, “And how many weeks have passed, and if I’m still who I was last,” referencing his struggles with addiction.

Clocking in at over an hour, one full listen to Is the Is Are is long, but in the end, it’s an overall fulfilling experience. Although some tracks tend to blend together due to repetitive beats and an obvious formula, this album feels like one fluid statement rather than a collection of songs.

Any longtime fans of DIIV will find exactly what they’re looking for in Is the Is Are — a minimal shoegaze sound highlighted with twangy guitars and enough reverb to sustain a note for an eternity. This record shows why DIIV is the definitive modern shoegaze band.

However, vocals are still forgone in many songs for a more holistic and encompassing aural experience. Naysayers might appreciate the additional focus on each track’s instrumental core, but Is the Is Are certainly won’t convert anyone from hating the group to loving it instantly.

Is the Is Are has a better overall experience than Oshin, but still lacks a well-rounded sound to make it the peak of DIIV’s potential.

Album: Is the Is Are

  • Genre: Dream pop
  • Tracks: 17
  • Rating: B