Release Date: Feb 5, 2016
Record label: Captured Tracks
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
The intention of Is the Is Are is nothing short of messianic. Zach Cole Smith can’t seem to talk about the record without referencing how he hopes it ends up being something like salvation, more for him than his fans. Some may say his rhetoric is a little heavy-handed, but it’s really just the sort of speech typical of anyone who’s seen the nth degree of what music can do for a person.
After the success of Oshin, DIIV 2012 debut , it’s safe to say subsequent intentions for this Brooklyn four piece haven’t gone according to plan. It’s a rarity for a new band to spend four years following up a debut, that time hasn’t been spent musing over analogue equipment and musical minutiae, rather dealing with a catalogue of mishaps. Drug busts, various levels of inter-band addiction, rehab, unwanted celebrity attention through high profile girlfriends (front man Zachary Cole Smith is hooked up with Sky Ferreira) and a still unresolved incident involving bassist Devin Ruben Perez, who was uncovered trolling Grimes and Perfect Pussy’s front woman Meredith Graves on deep web chat room 4Chan in 2014, adding a bunch of casually racist and homophobic comments to flagrant sexism for good measure.
When "Dopamine" dropped last year, it spent four minutes breaking nearly four years' worth of promises Zachary Cole Smith had made about DIIV’s sophomore album. There was no remnant of the San Francisco magic Smith hoped to conjure by working with Chet "J.R" White. It did not sound like Royal Trux and it definitely did not sound like Elliott Smith.
Considering the troubles DIIV went through after the release of their debut album Oshin -- chief among them Zachary Cole Smith's 2013 arrest for drug possession -- it's somewhat miraculous that they made another album, much less one as consistently good as Is the Is Are. Over the course of 17 songs (just a handful of the over 150 demos Smith wrote), DIIV finds salvation through ambition, with Smith using his mistakes as a crucible for his art. While artists shouldn't have to suffer for their work, there is something alchemical about turning pain into beauty; Is the Is Are has plenty of both.
Is The Is Are centers around achieving the redemption of self, albeit without acknowledging that the path to get there can seem like a treacherous impossibility. The struggles DIIV frontman Zachary Cole Smith has gone through have been very much publicized, which bears no repeating, though they do reflect a man who cheated himself into the belief that escapism is a positive engagement. After a trudging few years trying to write new material, it became clear for Smith that the only way to reacquaint himself with his creative process was to make some drastic changes.
DIIV can’t escape context. Not least when questions remain unanswered, despite second album ‘Is The Is Are’’s finest efforts to provide an antidote to controversy. In this month’s magazine, Zachary Cole Smith goes in depth about his bandmates, drugs, relationships, his arrest. His life has transformed since the release of debut ‘Oshin’.
The making of this sprawling double album has not been without its drama. Since the Brooklyn band released their 2012 debut, Oshin, lead singer Zachary Cole Smith has been arrested for heroin possession and suffered a year’s worth of writer’s block, although the tortured artist archetype is something he seems to embrace: “I know I have to stay alive at least until the album’s done,” he recently declared. Is the Is Are picks up where Oshin left us, with an even deeper focus on sonic textures – swooning guitars divebomb over motorik rhythms – and some thrilling, druggy freak outs (Under the Sun and the title track in particular resemble Spiritualized).
DIIV’s frontman Zachary Cole Smith describes his band’s second album Is the Is Are in terms usually reserved for divinity. In recent interviews he’s referred to the LP as “a light at the end of a tunnel” and “a chance at redemption,” and said that he was “blessed” even to live to its recording. On that last count, he could be right.
Three and a half years have passed since the release of DIIV's excellent debut, Oshin, (not an unreasonable amount of time) and it appears from the sheer size of Is The Is Are that the band has certainly been hard at work: 17 tracks all under six minutes apiece, an hour and four minutes in total. It speaks to the quality of the band and their appeal that all of that time goes by without a hitch. The record never feels bloated, and in fact feels more urgent than its predecessor.
Having released debut LP Oshin to a wave of critical acclaim four years ago, Diiv looked set to be the next leftfield guitar outfit to swap Brooklyn's musical underground for more mainstream territories. A successful UK tour and numerous festival appearances followed, and when singer/songwriter Zachary Cole Smith told DiS as far back as November 2012 he'd already written 30 songs for the follow-up, it seemed like album number two would be imminent. So what could possibly go wrong? Well, everything by all accounts.
In the lead-up to the release of DIIV's second full-length, most of the attention has been placed on either the band's substance problems (specifically Zachary Cole Smith's arrest for heroin possession) or Smith's modelling career. In giving the fans a whopping 17-track double album, however, the focus should easily be shifting to the ambitious excess of Is The Is Are.DIIV's 2012 debut album, Oshin, presented the band's sprawling dream pop as a cohesive and condensed product. Is The Is Are, on the other hand, smashes that model to aim for something far less contained, offering the listener more of virtually every aspect of DIIV.
Originally a solo project from Brooklyn-based ex-Darwin Deez and Beach Fossils touring guitarist Zachary Cole Smith, DIIV evolved from the live band Cole Smith put together when taking his self-penned songs on the road. Initially named Dive, they apparently changed their name to DIIV out of respect for Dirk Ivens and the original Dive, a 1990s Belgian industrial group, and their debut album Oshin was one of 2012’s most critically acclaimed records. A compelling blend of murky, distorted shoegaze and sunny, jangling dream pop with a discreet but unmistakeable Krautrock undertow, Oshin was a grower; its tracks tended to creep up on the listener rather than lodge in the brain instantly.
As soon as one shoegaze revival ends, another one starts up. While many in the latest generation are content to pile on tons of effects to make up for bland songwriting, Brooklyn pedal-board hoarders DIIV's second album finds them eager to prove there's more to them than ambience. Many of the songs on Is the Is Are seem to deal with frontman Zachary Cole Smith's 2013 arrest for possession of a narcotic and his struggles to get and stay clean: "Fought my mind to keep my life/But my body's putting up a tougher fight," he sings on "Bent (Roi's Song)." Over 17 sprawling songs, the album seeks to split the difference between music that induces a woozy rush and brutally honest lyrics about trying to keep one's head on straight.
There are more than a fair few Brooklyn bands that have a particular taste for jangly guitars and not washing. It is only a minority of these, however, where the substance is greater than the style. DIIV fall in to the latter category, peddling reverb jangles in a way that doesn't just sound like a Cure pastiche. This second full-length offering is a sprawling continuation of their debut.
If there’s one thing Zachary Cole Smith of DIIV doesn’t suffer for, it’s a lack of ambition. The group’s debut album, Oshin, hinted at something deeper and darker than the laid-back psychedelic guitar rock of Smith’s former band, Beach Fossils (he was a touring member), but didn’t do a lot to differentiate itself. The four years since have shown that Smith puts much more weight in his music than his listeners do, to often outlandish levels (an infamous 2013 interview with Pitchfork found him saying he could see his band being at the level of Nirvana by album three.
Here we are, returning back to the thing we always knew we could count on, except now things are different. What used to be our fix has become grotesque and strange to us, a perverse reminder of how much more naïve we were back then. It’s like when I ran into my old Rennaisance Adventures camp leader while I was working at Jamba Juice back in high school, a man who had always been hilarious and kind to me when I was a kid, but now he meekishly ordered his smoothie before sitting down with a friend to discuss how his longtime girlfriend was leaving him and he didn’t know why.
Zachary Cole Smith has a lot of ambition for his music, or at least he says he does. The songwriter and principal player behind Brooklyn indie-rock band DIIV has been through quite a bit in the years since the band broke out in 2012, and in recent interviews leading up to the release of Is The Is Are, Smith has talked about that as important for both him and the band’s development. After listening to the album, though, one gets the impression it would have been wiser for Smith to temper his praise for his own work.
While much of the chatter surrounding DIIV frontman Zachary Cole Smith focuses on his Nirvana fixation — the band’s named after an early Nirvana single; Smith bears a slight physical resemblance to Kurt Cobain — “Is the Is Are” brings to mind the distorted yet airier ’90s guitar pop that eschewed grunge’s sludgy low end for something brisker, fuzzier, and more liberated. Putting out a double album in the age of trial-balloon EPs is a risky gesture, but the buoyancy at the center of the open-road-ready “Dopamine,” subtly urgent “Yr Not Far,” and chiming “Loose Ends” makes the 17 tracks drift by like a breeze on a particularly carefree spring day. The length also allows for a few surprises; Smith’s significant other, the reluctant pop star Sky Ferreira, is front and center on “Blue Boredom (Sky’s Song),” her murmured, husky vocal an ideal counterpart to DIIV’s reverb-heavy riffing.
Is The Is Are is DIIV’s second album. But for the Brooklyn band’s frontman, Zachary Cole Smith, it’s much more than that. In the years since 2012’s Oshin, he’s battled drug addiction, been arrested for possession of heroin and done a stint in rehab. On this double album, Smith bravely confronts his demons, pairing personal lyrics with swooning guitar melodies that are equally uplifting and morose.
A junkie, a cliché, a hipster, a brat. Maybe a precociously talented songwriter, or maybe just a heroin-addled Kurt Cobain wannabe destined for failure. Zachary Cole Smith (who goes by Cole) has endured plenty of mudslinging since forming DIIV as a no-frills punk band in 2011, and releasing narcotic debut ‘Oshin’ in 2012. The behaviour of him and his bandmates since the record came out hasn’t helped.In 2013, alcoholic guitarist Andrew Bailey entered rehab and Cole and his girlfriend, the pop singer Sky Ferreira, were arrested for possession of heroin and ecstasy.
THERE ARE PLENTY of bands that have served as their own worst enemies. DIIV had all the makings of a band banging on the door to stardom—hooks for days, a distinctive aesthetic in a crowded field, an edgy frontman who has acquired his own mythos. So the wait between their debut and sophomore efforts was an unwelcome wrinkle. After curating one of the finer entries into the Captured Tracks discography, the Brooklyn genre-melders hit a few snags, most notably Zachary Cole Smith’s arrest in late 2013 and drummer Colby Hewitt’s departure due to drug addiction.