DIIV // Is The Is Are
Recommended Track(s): Dust
Part of me wanted to write this review as a creatively unparalleled, transcendent indictment of the industry’s love of over-hyped mediocre indie rock. I wanted it to be a complex two-volume, poetic haze of impossible hatred. But then I thought: Fuck that. I mean, why bother with any kind of over-arching concept or unique purpose? DIIV certainly didn’t. And why would they, when the cabal of Svengali-as-music-writers we call the industry will slap you on the back with a velvet glove and tickle your genitals with the feather of a Crested shelduck no matter how hard you fail to deliver on promises made? Why work towards anything challenging when critical acclaim is based on how much sensationalist bullshit has been invested in your classic junkie, proven-to-sell, hype- story?
When I first saw DIIV, I thought comedian Tig Nataro started a parody band that specialized in Wild Nothing covers. Oshin was recommended to me as some kind of modern post-punk gem but I merely thought it was “Eh” on a scale from “Stop” to “Fine, whatever.” First of all, calling DIIV post-punk is a grievous insult to all those who love the genre. This band doesn’t sound like the Cure (or The Tempest or The Wake or Josef K or The Names). They sound more like The War On Drugs (the band and the actual war) with more delay & bunk meth.
With that said, there was at least a little bit of something there. I was actually pretty excited that DIIV might depart from past sounds, especially if that meant they would take a hot scraper to the ill-fitting post-punk label. So, you can imagine how it felt to listen to Is The Is Are and realize that, like a bad “Chrono Trigger” ending, nothing changed. Put it like this, if you play their first album backwards? It’s basically their second album somehow. Which is a feat that (as we all know) can only be accomplished by sacrificing your engineer to the Sumerian trickster God Enki. Track opener “Out of Mind” is perfectly named because that’s where a song like this on a “style departure/last shot at immortality” album actually belongs. Out of the mind and far away from all mental gestation. Especially when you’re trying to NOT sound like everything you have already fucking done. It’s upsetting! There’s “starting off on the wrong foot” and then there’s taking your little Dutch painter boy shoes and curb-stomping a pile of rancid Bum shit. There’s a thin line between laziness and fuck it, and even allowing this on the record is the equivalent of blowing your nose on the T-shirt you’re still wearing.
Unfortunately, this song sets the yawning tone for this entire album. What was supposed to be a thoughtful cry for help/call to arms in the battle of addiction came to represent a different kind of “SOS”: Same Old Shit. Yep! DIIV is still rocking the watery, fey-in-the-hallway vocal style. It’s like Zachary Cole Smith is too timid to fully articulate himself because he knows that the lyrics aren’t very good and aren’t really expressing much of anything riveting or personal. At least not anything about him that every music publication didn’t already make sure you’d know. So basically what you’ve got is a guy doing the “white sensitive artist” voice over pensive delay to project some kind of bullshit air of mystery, by telling you a bunch of shit you already knew but never cared about.
And it doesn’t make much difference if he tags someone else in for vocal duties. “Blue Boredom” asks the question: Is boredom worse than death? Welp. Kierkegaard said “Boredom is the root of all evil” and this song is such a blatant Sonic Youth rip off that it makes me want to give the entire 90s Nyquil milkshakes, tell them we’re going to Disneyland and instead drive the car into a river of rage. Not a “raging river”, mind you, but a river that impossibly contains nothing but the emotion of anger.
“Is The Is Are”, “NAPA”, “Dust”, “Incarnate Devil” were the only silver-linings to this under-handed softball pitch of a record. Even though these songs were only half as good as they could’ve been, I still got the sense that without lyrics, without vocals, there’s a wind-swept, furious sadness in all of Smith’s overly-picked notes; a confusion and a void that sits somewhere under his shoulder blades, in his breath, in his life. I’ve lived too many lifetimes with people (and as people) like Smith to ever say I completely hate his art or his luck. Just him, his words and a guitar with no external bullshit? I’d probably be a fan.
But right now I feel like…if Kurt Cobain is “the one that got away”, then Zachary Smith is “the one that should consider leaving.” I don’t mean the whole suicide thing, I mean that he should consider getting out of the industry for a while because they are straight up playing his ass. Or maybe he’s (in what would be the world’s most elaborate drug grift) playing them? Either way, if he’s not careful he’ll end up on that Doherty/Spears breakdown tip, which will either result in a stale-ass career as an indie rock nostalgia act or, you know, death.
No matter which way I ginsu this shit, there is no reason DIIV should be as lauded as they are when there are clearly better alternatives. The only reason any publication is dead-ass silent on what should be a very innate and natural disdain for this album can only be fear of the establishment’s wrath or an unwillingness to shit on your investment. Truly, Wild Nothing is the Bernie Sanders of this sound. They re-started it and continue to develop it into something refreshing. Meanwhile: Not only does Smith and Hilary Clinton have almost the same haircut, but they’re jammed down your throat as something that matters in the same way. As far as “departures from previous outings” go? It is completely fucked up how much better Life of Pause is than this album. “Reichpop” sounds like Talking Heads draped in silk floating down the stairs in Scarface’s mansion. DIIV’s tritely named “Dopamine” sounds like, well, actually…like DIIV from 4 years ago in the same funky stale ass clothes from the horrible night before, knocking on your door, asking if you have a lighter when you got to work in an hour.
Listen, I’m sure in 2 more albums, I’ll regret ever talking shit on DIIV. But by then (considering it took four years to make this hot-garbage of a sequel) art will be over, the world will have truly ended and that silver-tongue, sharp toothed, seductive feeling of disappointment, boredom and emptiness that every addict deals with will be too justified in every single sober one of us for it to matter. If there’s anything great about the album it’s not that it makes hate that I ever listened to DIIV. It’s that it makes me hate the industry-orchestrated DIIV-machine—who fabricated Smith & Ferreira as that cute, white, druggie, Sid & Nancy archetype so you’d click on their bullshit site and make them lots of money. At a time when I thought I couldn’t be more disgusted with the music industry, DIIV came along and gave me additional causes for sorrow.
Gee. Thanks, guys. Now “DIIV” your asses on outta here.