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dios: self-titled

StarTime International

Here are a few interesting things you need to know about the Southern California band, dios. The band — with the exception of Venezuelan-American Jackie Monzon — are second-generation Mexican-American. Brothers Joel (vocalist) and Kevin Morales (guitarist) are sons of a well-known Mexican Mariachi singer. The rest of the band, Monzon, keyboardist Jimmy Cabez De Vaca, and bassist J.P. Caballero, are all old chums born and raised in their hometown of Hawthorne, California. Yes, Hawthorne, home of pop legend Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys.

The band have a passion for the Beach Boys, and it was evident on their EP Los Arboles, released earlier this year. The impressive five-track EP was a collection of Beach Boys-inspired, moody indie pop songs with an added sense of humor that has become the band’s trademark. Their debut full-length album, dios, is hardly mere extension of the sound found on their EP. dios is brilliantly produced by Caballero, who manages to maintain the band’s indie pop core sound intact, but guides the band through the styles and tones reminiscent of their heroes.

Naysayers may think it’s better to be original than to hark back and capture the sounds that made milestone artists great. But artists such as Matthew Sweet, the Flaming Lips, the Soundtrack of Our Lives, and most recently the Thorns (Sweet’s latest band) and the Polyphonic Spree have done so with acclaim. They pull it off because these artists stay away from merely copy-and-pasting retro elements, instead adapting the sounds to their own songwriting and production talents. Like these artists, dios’ debut incorporates but doesn’t recycle these brilliant sounds of pop gods.

The result is a strong debut effort from a band that — get this — have only been playing together for a little over year and half. Is this band for real? Joel Morales told NME in January that the band’s aim was to be timeless. They were doing things on their terms and it seemed to be working. Can they pull grandeur with the ease of the Polyphonic Spree? One listen to either their self-titled debut or Los Arboles and doubters will change their tune.

The album’s gloomy opener, “Nobody’s Perfect”, is a break-up song that begins with an emo pop tone that flows upon an epic electronic loop. Thanks to Caballero’s production, the melancholia in the lyrics (“I can’t be what’s wrong with you / You can’t hold me / I am gone / It’s my fault I stayed so long with you”) isn’t remotely pretentious. Joel Morales’ vocals reaches the sincerity found in Ben Gibbard’s vocals on the Postal Service’s “The District Sleeps Alone”.

“Starting Five” is a Beatlesque song with lively drums, a strumming chord, and melodic yoo-hoos. The wispy vocals, electronic loops, and atmospheric keyboards on “The Uncertainty” recall the Flaming Lips. But it’s the gorgeous keyboard opening on “All Is Said and Done”, originally found on their Los Arboles EP, that becomes the immediate stand out on dios. Caballero’s keen attention to production on this track is exemplary.

“You’ll Get Yours” is another gorgeous chamber pop gem, right down to the background claps and the jangling percussions and striking keyboards. Joel Morales’ rich vocals tends to tap into Richard Ashcroft’s territory on “All Is Said and Done” and “You’ll Get Yours”. And, once again, Caballero’s production comes to the rescue with the country-twang “Birds”, which showcases yet more of the band’s musical range.

On “Birds”, “Just Another Girl”, and “You Make Me Feel”, the band follows the mellow guitar pop established by Neil Young (yet another one of dios’ major influences), the Byrds, and, in the ’90s, Matthew Sweet. On “Meeting People”, guitars swirl with a striking insistence. It bears the same elements that made Matthew Sweet’s classic Girlfriend, so remarkable. And just as remarkable is dios’ debut.