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. One year after Oshin was released, Smith and his girlfriend were arrested - initially for driving without a licence and using false number plates - only for a substantial amount of heroin to be found in his possession when searched. Then a year later bass player Devin Ruben Perez posted a succession of offensive and discriminatory comments (for which he later apologised) on public message board 4chan.org. In the meantime, recording sessions for that long-awaited follow-up weren't exactly going to plan, as engineers and producers came and went culminating in drummer Colby Hewitt eventually being fired/quitting the band depending whose version of events one chooses to believe. Then, in light of Dirty Projectors' Amber Coffman's allegations of sexual harassment against Life Or Death PR music publicist Heathcliff Berru, Smith and Diiv quit the company mid-campaign just 16 days before the new record's scheduled release date.
With over 250 songs jettisoned in the interim period between Oshin and Is The Is Are amidst all of the aforementioned turbulence, that the record saw the light of day at all ranks as an achievement. And yet here it is, consisting of a mammoth 17 tracks in total lasting over an hour and therefore meriting its status as a double album. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there isn't a great deal of change musically or structurally from the first LP. Those ebullient washes of blissed out, reverb heavy, surf inspired melodies remain. As do Smith's delicate vocals, still low in the mix and therefore lyrically inaudible for the most part. Is The Is Are or its creators won't win any awards for originality but what is reinforced without any real argument is how Diiv convey this kind of thing so much better than anyone else out there.
Smith and fellow guitarist Andrew Bailey's trademark layered rhythm-as-lead and vice versa drives Is The Is Are from the opening sugar rush that's 'Out Of Mind' to the poignant comedown 'Waste Of Breath' at its climax. In between it's business as usual with the odd diverse surprise thrown in. Recent single 'Under The Sun' could be an outtake of OMD's 'Messages' had they chosen jangling guitars over robotic synthesizers. It's on the laidback and deliriously trippy 'Bent (Roi's Song)' that things get a little more interesting. Fusing elements of MBV-esque warped drone with a hazy vocal reminiscent of early Flaming Lips or recent offerings by the likes of Splashh, it's one of the most adventurous pieces of music Smith and co. have committed to tape thus far.
As is 'Blue Boredom', a part melodic, part spoken word duet with Sky Ferreira that recalls Sonic Youth or early Nineties shoegazers Smashing Orange in its execution. The title track also delivers in spades, acting as the album's centre point as guitars squall in and out of focus around Smith's swoonsome vocals. 'Mire (Grant's Song) also rocks out as guitars intertwine over a backbeat that catapults to and fro between the song's engine and heartbeat. 'Dust', possibly the oldest song on the record dating back to the latter half of 2012 also ranks as one of Is The Is Are's unadulterated highlights. Brash and poppy in melody while both bold and intrusive in musicality, it's placing on the album as Is The Is Are's penultimate number ensures the record receives a brisk send off.
Elsewhere, Smith's voice reverberates around 'Valentine' to create a haunting effect. While two interludes entitled '(Fuck)' and '(Napa)' respectively provide short, off kilter diversions as proceedings take a formulaic turn in the second half. It's not new or entirely original, yet is soothingly satisfying all the same. After the furore surrounding the trials and tribulations of the past few years, Is The Is Are is a far better record than anyone could have expected it to be. A welcome return, and one that hopefully signals a healthier and less troublesome existence in the future.
7Dom Gourlay's Score