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. For Smith, Kurt Cobain is the voice from the other side who set him free in some way and, for someone else, it’s just as likely for that person to be Springsteen as it is Morrissey. So how does DIIV’s new record sound as gospel?
The sort of lush, reverbed guitars DIIV traffics in have always been my go-to when it comes to experiencing the transcendent. Mastery of a pedal board can really bring you to the altar if it’s your thing. When Oshin came out, I blasted at least a few songs from it in the car every day for at least a year. The songs therein seemed like doorways into places you never would’ve gotten to had you not heard them. Is the Is Are is just as good at opening up new landscapes, even if the real estate these tracks display may be a little less immediately intoxicating.
When people talk about giving their all to music, usually that means there’s still an editing process. All their effort doesn’t necessarily mean all their material. This album feels like Smith put every song he’s ever come up with to this date on the line. There’s even one track, entitled ”(Fuck),” that’s under 20 seconds and is literally just a quick guitar riff. But even when the album does feel like it’s meandering a bit, it feels like it’s intentional.
Maybe the reason it works is that Smith’s filler tracks still sound like singles, and his singles don’t really sound quite like anyone else’s. “Dopamine” and “Under the Sun” were pretty precise examples of DIIV doing tracks as Krauty as they are catchy but “Bent (Roi’s Song)” and “Mire (Grant’s Song)” showed how the album wasn’t going to sacrifice ornate and more impenetrable sonic architecture just to get everyone they could into the building. The record as a whole is a listen that’s both inviting and challenging, and it seems like it’s one that’ll keep returning rewards for a long time.
Other highlights include “Blue Boredom,” wherein Sky Ferreira takes center stage. I wish I could compare it to something more original than early Sonic Youth, but she wears the detached yet observant Kim Gordon role here too well to not mention it. Album closer “Waste of Breath” sends things off on a wave of anticipation for what’s to come next. It’s one of the more haunting and ominous tracks here and indicates Smith is still going to have plenty of echoing ghost stories to tell us from here on out.
Is the Is Are will take you one listen to decide whether you’re on its team. For those who don’t go in for this type of music, the good thing about the modern world is there are a lot of people with advice as to how you can be saved, renewed and/or rejuvenated. But for those who think the way to Heaven is through a chorus pedal, this record will take you there without ever losing sight of what it’s like to go through Hell. Smith knows the way up is through taking a hard look at the depths. Two albums in and he’s proven himself to be a terrific guide of the earthly and the eternal alike.