After releasing extremely well-received 2012 album, Oshin, which received a respectable 8.3 and Best New Music title from Pitchfork, Zachary Cole Smith, frontman of DIIV, did his best (and worst) to hype his newest release Is the Is Are.
Openly proud of his work, Smith can be quoted comparing himself to music greats and talking up his high hopes for this newest work. In addition to his pride and expectations for Is the Is Are, Smith also delayed the release of this new album from fall to February 5th because he couldn’t stop editing its recordings, creating much anticipation for the final project. All of this hype and confidence combined with the cult following Smith’s first album created gave us fans crazy high hopes for the next release.
The album, an astonishing 17 songs and an hour and 30 minutes in length, is based mostly on the struggles Smith dealt with following the mega successful release of Oshin and the drug problems that came with touring. On September 13th, 2013, Smith and his girlfriend Sky Ferreira were pulled over and brought into custody while driving to a DIIV show when heroin and ecstasy were found in their van. Smith later left custody and played the gig. His newest album, Is the Is Are, focuses largely on his recovery, addiction, and his thoughts during this time, as well as his relationship with Ferreira, who is also featured on the album.
Is the Is Are as a whole is pretty solid, maybe not the feat of a project we were expecting from Smith and his high expectations, but a pretty solid album all said and done. Is the Is Are stays fairly true to DIIV’s first album in terms of general sound, it still stays heavy on guitar and effect pedals, but you can tell Smith has grown since Oshin. In addition to a refining of DIIV’s distinct sound, the album also has some super spooky vocals, which make it clear that this new album comes from a much deeper place for Smith than his previous work.
In the song “Dust”, Smith layers effects and a drawing guitar line to hint at some darker content. This dark tone is also highlighted by his lyrics “fucked to die in a world of shit” and the repeated phrase “you fall” which Smith loads with so much anxiety and exhaustion into that it’s almost sang as a tired and overburdened defeated chant.
The highlight of the new album being for me the song “Bent (Roi’s Song)”. The unique guitar licks throughout the song pulled me in, but I stayed for the lyrical genius. In this song, Smith’s sings about his fears of addiction gripping his friends as he watches them take the same dangerous road with opiates he did, highlighted by the quote “and I lost you when you said a hit couldn’t hurt a bit”, which was also inspired by the Elliot Smith song “Little One”, a muse of Smith.
The rest of the songs on Is the Is Are mesh fairly well together but are also diverse and complex enough to stand alone if needed. Smith’s lyricism really takes a step forward in this album, which is fair based on his inspiration. Is the Is Are doesn’t lose that signature effects heavy guitar sound that makes DIIV so unique, but instead capitalizes on it. Overall, alone this album is excellent, there is not a single song I would drop from the group as they all contribute something unique. That being said, I just wish Smith hadn’t gotten my hopes up quite so high.
[Ed. Note: Check out DIIV’s page on Captured Tracks here.]
JULIA OLSON | It’s Always Sunny battle survivor | SU Student Correspondent