As soon as one shoegaze revival ends, another one starts up. While many in the latest generation are content to pile on tons of effects to make up for bland songwriting, Brooklyn pedal-board hoarders DIIV’s second album finds them eager to prove there’s more to them than ambience. Many of the songs on Is the Is Are seem to deal with frontman Zachary Cole Smith’s 2013 arrest for possession of a narcotic and his struggles to get and stay clean: “Fought my mind to keep my life/But my body’s putting up a tougher fight,” he sings on “Bent (Roi’s Song).”
Over 17 sprawling songs, the album seeks to split the difference between music that induces a woozy rush and brutally honest lyrics about trying to keep one’s head on straight. Is the Is Are‘s stretches of free-roaming guitar gossamer can be quite lovely; at other turns, they end up feeling unmemorable. But when the bandmates focus – as on the circular chime of “Dopamine” and the driving “Valentine,” which charges forward on hypnotic bassline and a riff that slashes as much as it sparkles – DIIV prove there’s a lot of life left in the decades-old practice of adding way too much distortion to everything.