As a relatively new band, DIIV still has some time to figure out its approach to music. After an entrancing debut, 2012’s Oshin, the Brooklyn outfit cemented their style as an eclectic cross between shoegaze (My Bloody Valentine), grunge (Nirvana) and modern surf rock (Mac DeMarco, Real Estate). Despite looking like most indie rock groups trying to make it into the music industry, DIIV’s mellow and pleasant sound is oddly refreshing to listen to, especially with tracks “Sometime,” “Follow” and most notably “How Long Have You Known.”
With its newest record, the awkwardly titled Is The Is Are, DIIV disconnects from its multi-genre roots and instead plugs into a simpler, more relaxed sound. But by attempting to deconstruct its composed and nuanced music into something very laid-back, the group ends up creating a banal, hour-long record that moves at a gratingly slow pace. The album’s 17 songs all contain similar elements: a mid-tempo beat, glimmers of guitar screeches and reverbs, soft vocals and a general feeling of drug-induced numbness. And while it all sounds nice, Is The Is Are doesn’t take any risks nor does it break any boundaries.
Though the first few tracks radiate some potential, the majority of the record squanders any possibility for something to pop out. The enchanting “Out of Mind” opens Is The Is Are, followed by the chill “Under the Sun.” But by the third song, the droning “Bent (Roi’s Song),” the album starts to tire — and there’s still about 50 minutes left.
The rest of Is The Is Are is a rather hypnotic mess; there are moments when DIIV can sound captivating, but it’s easy to tune them out. “Take Your Time,” “Yr Not Far,” “Healthy Moon” and “Loose Ends” are such examples of that: their languid speed and faint instrumentals make for good vibes, but not much else. Additionally, the dark and hollow “Mire (Grant’s Song)” is fairly reminiscent of Nirvana, yet it stands out not for its familiarity, but how much it grossly contrasts against DIIV’s own sweet-sounding musical pallette.
On the other hand, Is The Is Are contains some highlights, particularly the drugged-out romance ballad “Blue Boredom.” Though DIIV frontman Zachary Smith doesn’t sing on “Blue Boredom,” he gives his girlfriend and indie rock enchantress Sky Ferreira the lead, her breathy vocals energizing the drowned-out production. The title track provides some much needed escapism, even though the album has already done a pretty good job of that; the dazzling, 17-second interlude “(Fuck)” sounds like a song waiting to be finished; and the poignant, multi-layered album closer “Wasted Breath” gives a solid ending to an otherwise drab record.
While these songs are decently written and well-produced, they just don’t have the vitality nor the gravitas that Oshin displayed. It’s even difficult to hone and comprehend the lyrics, as Smith’s benign vocals are buried under several strands of noise. Perhaps the album’s lack of effort and creative sparkle can be traced back to the actual recording process. DIIV began work on Is The Is Are a year after Oshin’s release but ran into some delays for a variety of unfortunate reasons: failed sessions with Chet “JR” White of the defunct indie rock group Girls; Smith’s drug addiction and arrest; controversial online remarks regarding bass guitarist Devin Ruben Perez; the departure of the band’s drummer Colby Hewitt due to an alleged drug addiction. Even with all that mind, it’s disappointing that Is the Is Are offers nothing new for DIIV or their listeners. Instead of propelling to greater musical and thematic heights, the members of DIIV just kind of sit in place, not really sure of where they want to go.