A junkie, a cliché, a hipster, a brat. Maybe a precociously talented songwriter, or maybe just a heroin-addled Kurt Cobain wannabe destined for failure. Zachary Cole Smith (who goes by Cole) has endured plenty of mudslinging since forming DIIV as a no-frills punk band in 2011, and releasing narcotic debut ‘Oshin’ in 2012. The behaviour of him and his bandmates since the record came out hasn’t helped.
In 2013, alcoholic guitarist Andrew Bailey entered rehab and Cole and his girlfriend, the pop singer Sky Ferreira, were arrested for possession of heroin and ecstasy. Then in December 2014, after a stint in rehab for Cole, bassist Devin Ruben Perez posted sexist comments on chat-room site 4chan. 2015 saw drummer Colby Hewitt depart, reportedly due to his own drug issues. There was little new music amidst the mess.
Cole designed the long-delayed ‘Is The Is Are’ (which he recorded and produced himself) to be an ambitious and revelatory answer to his critics. Naysayers, prepare for a shock. Its 17 flab-free tracks shift from luxuriant interwoven guitar (‘Valentine’, ‘Dopamine’, the magnificent ‘Healthy Moon’) to blasting noise (‘Incarnate Devil’, ‘Dust’) and show there’s more to DIIV than reverb, indie-pop and controversy. The 31-year-old also obliterates the idea that his talent has succumbed to smack – these are some of the most powerful, personal and persuasive rock songs you’ll hear this year.
DIIV’s main weapon is the guitar, and it’s fetishised here. An amp crackles before opener ‘Out Of Mind’, which shares an upbeat sensibility with second track ‘Under The Sun’. They form a euphoric introduction that updates ‘Oshin’’s hazy glow with new urgency. ‘Bent (Roi’s Song)’ introduces a muddier sound and tangible despair. Cole mutters despondently about an addicted friend (“I lost you when you said one hit couldn’t hurt a bit”) over deathly feedback. But his lead guitar evokes hope, cutting through like sunlight between rain clouds. It does the same over the desperate wail of ‘Mire (Grant’s Song)’, one of two homages to Sonic Youth (the other is ‘Blue Boredom’, on which Ferreira delivers Kim Gordon-style spoken word vocal).
It ends after 64 minutes with ‘Waste Of Breath’, which kicks from slow rumble into shoegaze wig out, steered expertly by Cole’s hammering guitar. Its final note lingers, leaving the impression ‘Is The Is Are’ could be DIIV’s definitive statement. Forget all the baggage, this is just a band in a room, and the noise they make is thrilling.