Is The Is Are
February 5 2016 (Captured Tracks)
Words: Alison Mack
The tongue-twister title is the return after almost four years for the New Yorkers, after their debut 'Oshin' left a trail of fans eager for more. It's likely they'll find the wait has been worth it in this sprawling, bliss-driven 17 track double record.
Despite the obstacles that have beset vocalist and lyricist (and former Beach Fossils member) Zachary Cole Smith in between the two works - arrested for drug addiction, rehab, heroin possession, writer’s block (other band members going through similar strife, or leaving as in the case of drummer Colby Hewitt last year - they have managed to capture in the sonic textures and motorik rhythms something that goes deeper, darker and denser than before.
The first two tracks ‘Out Of Mind’ and 'Under The Sun’ both share an upbeat pop sensibility - indeed, reverb jangles and guitar lines are intricately woven around the rolling bass and Zachary Cole Smith’s bleared vocals throughout. 'Under The Sun' belts out of the starting block drenched in sweeping melodic production and huge riffs to set it out in a class of its own. 'Valentine' is also one of the standout tracks, owing much to Devin Perez’s ariose basslines and the juxtaposition of Smith and Andrew Bailey’s guitars. Similarly, 'Dopamine' - a song detailing Smith’s recovery from heroin addiction - attests to this, along with with the shimmer smart keys of ‘Healthy Moon’, and the blasting noise of ‘Incarnate Devil’.
‘Bent (Roi’s Song)’ brings in a despondency in a song written about an addicted friend (“I lost you when you said one hit couldn’t hurt a bit”) over sharp serrated guitar edges. Both this and the sprawling ‘Mire (Grant’s Song)’ are homages to individuals (though in the former one could posit a question over whether that is or is not, himself): the latter one of two to Sonic Youth (Smith has indicated that Sonic Youth was a major influence on the record) - the other being ‘Blue Boredom’ which brings in Smith's girlfriend, singer Sky Ferreira, to deliver the spoken word vocal.
'Is The Is Are' is a lot to get through, not just in terms of length either. Yes, the album is slanted on the heavy scale, and at times feels pulled down by its weightiness; yet by the same token, it is also beguiling and revealing.