DIIV’s second album, Is The Is Are, is the product of Zachary Cole Smith’s life over the past few years – from his widely-reported arrest back in 2013 (where he was arrested alongside girlfriend Sky Ferreira, for possession of drugs and driving a stolen car without a license), to his struggles with heroin and writer’s block.
The entire record sounds like an attempt to get back on track; there’s an air of playing it safe, of sticking to the tried and tested formula of what fans already know and grew to love with 2012’s debut, Oshin. Whilst this is by no means a bad thing – after all, the second album is notoriously tricky in terms of striking the right balance between old and new sounding material – it might be a bit of a disappointment to some fans.
The album lacks the sense of danger, the desire to push boundaries that Smith claims he has always had. In an interview with Consequence of Sound, the singer said, “I’ve just always been the kind of person that you can’t say to me, ’That stove is too hot. Don’t touch it.” I have to just touch it and figure out how hot it is — you know, hold my hand just above it or touch it with my little finger. I always have to push my limits.” This record sounds remarkably safe, tired even, overshadowed by the effects of long-term drug use; a lethargy which is connoted by the line “buried deep in a heroin sleep”, in ‘Dopamine’.
The listener does get a sense that Smith is back on track, though, thanks to the references to recovery and rehab. Highlights from the record include ‘Bent (Roi’s Song)’, and ‘Blue Boredom’, which features Smith’s partner-in-crime (if you’ll pardon the pun), Sky Ferreira. The topically titled track ‘Valentine’ is a sinister, woozy construction which has an enchanting melody, even if the lyrics are somewhat lacking in depth: “The right side of me / Is the right side of me”. But that’s about it for ‘standout’ tracks. This is more of an amalgam of songs, a mishmash of reverb-driven atmospherics which DIIV have already cemented as ‘their sound’. At times, it’s a bit repetitive. At times, the listener questions whether all seventeen tracks needed to make it onto the record, wondering if the tracklist couldn’t have been narrowed down and reordered in a way which would create a cohesive whole rather than the mishmash we’ve been given.
Whilst I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this is a ‘Waste of Breath’, Is the Is Are is certainly lacking somewhat. If you remember back to the disappointment which accompanied Swim Deep’s hotly anticipated debut, Where The Heaven Are We, you’ll find a parallel in the emotion that DIIV’s sophomore record incites in its listener. It’s ambient, and at times technically clever, but you aren’t struck by an overwhelming desire to see the record played live, which I always think is a good test of how much you really like an album.