At first glance Zach Cole Smith appears to be the run-of-the-mill hipster art boy, clad in baggy sweatshirts and dad-esque baseball caps. But, his songwriting and his story are far more complex and stirring than these fleeting fads. After a stint in rehab and a breakup, Smith has proved that his Brooklyn-based band, DIIV is also more than a passing trend. Their 2016 sophomore album, Is the Is Are, is a kaleidoscope of guitar sounds that is genre-less, dreamy, and intensely introspective.
The album’s atmospheric sounds take note from bands like the Cure and War on Drugs. Is the Is Are is a careful balance of gloomy and joy. The album rises with songs of pure ecstasy like, “Under the Sun,” but also plummets into grungy darkness in “Waste of Breath.” Much of the album is about getting high and regretting it, as much of it was written while Smith was recovering from a heroin addiction. Is the Is Are is a painful, often disturbing, but never glamorous admission of addiction. Smith’s lyrics seem to accept defeat from the fatal drug, but songs like “Healthy Moon” and “Mire” reflect on Smith’s past mistakes and hint that he’s accepted most of them.
Seeing DIIV live is what cemented my love for their music. The inherent energy and pathos of their music, along with the energy of the band members, made for an electric performance. Even more moving was that Smith quickly and demurely announced he had been sober for three months. The immediate support from his bandmates and the audience was astounding, considering the venue reeked of beer and other substances. At more tender moments of the show, home videos shot by Smith appeared on the stage’s backdrop. Tender footage of Smith’s famous relationship with Sky Ferreira filled the screen, despite having broken up long ago. Along with the band’s sincerely cheerful banter, their music and the visuals created a contradictory atmosphere of juvenile joy, angst, nostalgia, and peaceful acceptance. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Even if DIIV appears to follow fashion trends and overindulge in dark melancholy, their record’s sound and lyrics have an authenticity that is undeniable.