Review: DIIV - "Is the Is Are"

DIIV - Is the Is Are
(2016 Captured Tracks)

Chugging krautrock grooves; Cocteau Twins-ian dream-pop drones; patchwork scraps of failed jams and studio outtakes; polished pop gems familiar to their rabid fans who scour the barnacled surface of Youtube for distorted peeks at new material; no-wave freakouts that channel Sonic Youth's ectoplasmic waves of static... 

Is the Is Are, pressed nearly four years following DIIV's critically-acclaimed debut, Oshin, more closely resembles a retrospective compilation than a sophomore effort - a proud demonstration of the myriad textures and hooks frontman Cole Smith and Co.are able to assemble with impressive frugality - over the course of 17 tracks, the Brooklyn quintet vividly illustrates a half-decade's worth of frustration (arrests, addictions, severe cases of writer's block) and 30 years' worth of post-punk innovation with a few choice brushstrokes. Is The Is Are is a beautifully monochromatic record, a grey Rothko canvas lavished with rough, charcoal distortion, impasto layers of gooey reverb and a shimmery coat of chorus-pedal lacquer.

The brighter side of the grey spectrum is occupied by Oshin throwbacks like twangy opener "Out Of Mind" or the blisteringly pretty "Loose Ends", its summery lead riff a trickle of butter through gloomy lumps of mashed potato clouds. Though fans will likely find such tracks quite structurally similar to their 2012 predecessors (staccato melodies layered carefully atop wefts of wiry guitar), Smith's vocals are more confident and expressive than ever, the rhythm sections noticeably more propulsive and arresting. Is the Is Are's darkest moments are just as compelling - "Dust" slowly pulls listeners into a void - a downward spiral - of funereal bass and keening peals of lead guitar while Smith hacks spoken words into the microphone like pneumonic mucus. The song is pale, sickly and surprisingly catchy, a last-ditch burst of life-force leading into closing cut "Waste of Breath", a formless, aqueous shoegaze tune in the vein of Slowdive that lies somewhere between a buildup of nervous tension and the closure of release. It never commits to either side, concluding on a curiously ambiguous note.

It's this grey area of greyness where DIIV seems most at home, most satisfying - the counterbalance of somber arpeggios and cozy trills played high on the neck of guitar on "Healthy Moon", the title track's bassy rumblings, Sky Ferreira's Kim Gordon-esque incantations atop "Blue Boredom" - Is the Is Are is full of murky confusion, a the fog that conceals hidden nuggets of beauty and catharsis. Highly recommended and a major improvement over the already-solid Oshin