Indie rock died in 2009, or 2004, or maybe it was 2000. Or was it the moment when Modest Mouse and Wilco - critically acclaimed major-label bands that embodied indie rock's cultural peak - became the kind of acts that soundtracked chill car commercials? Doubts of this nature are to be expected as indie rock meets a third decade and routinely shows up on the charts. But the key factor driving this concern isn't, say, Spoon or Vampire Weekend crossing over to cultural ubiquity a few years ago - it's crop after crop of lackluster records by younger bands who are supposed to be the genre's future. Indie rock is still, by and large, a genre dominated by young white guys with guitars, who are now creating music for a public that's increasingly unsure what to make of it. At a time when pop music is at the vanguard of so many powerful ideas, identities, and sounds, it feels as if indie rock exists in an airless bubble. Why should we invest in the stagnant musical efforts of America's most privileged group?
Last month, the Brooklyn indie band DIIV released a forgettable second album, Is the Is Are. Four years after the band's meandering debut, the follow-up is filled with even more interchangeable reverb-soaked pop songs, would-be shoegaze anthems, and brief noise ditties. It's hard to find progress in music as woefully familiar as this: The vocals are still outmatched by the blurry guitars and sleepy chord changes. That dullness is amplified by a 17-song-deep tracklist that feels overcommitted to the band's shallow, one-trick aesthetic. There's an uptick in energy when lead singer Zachary Cole Smith cedes the microphone to a similarly disheveled peer, Sky Ferreira. "Blue Boredom (Sky's Song)" gives the band a stronger identity, even if it's as a late-'80s Sonic Youth cover band. But that all fades as soon as Smith wrests the mic back.