Hawthorne, CA, where the slogan could or should be, “Hey, at least we’re not Inglewood!” or at worst, “Just a hop, skip, and a jump from Compton!” Nestled snugly in the flight path of LAX, the Southern California town was previously known as the home of the Beach Boys, and as the location of the Hawthorne Grill, where Jules and Vincent stumbled into a hold-up in Pulp Fiction. Now when you google it, besides listings for hotels in the area, you also get a link to Crip gangs that can be found in town. How forward thinking! The Crips have a website!
Now let’s get something straight. I lived in L.A. for about eight years, longer in Orange County. I worked at LAX for some years. That part of town does NOT have much in the way of culture to offer. The Los Angeles music scene was and always has been centered on the Sunset Strip in clubs like the Roxy, the Whiskey-a-Go-Go, the Rainbow, and the Troubador. Bands like the Doors, X, and Guns n’ Roses were the mainstays. But, thank the gods, our prayers have been answered, there is another good band from Hawthorne!
Like the setting sun on the cover of the album with the band’s name in lowercase letters, dios has come along quietly to shed a last ray of hope for Southern California. Taking cues from the hometown heroes and adding some spice from the book of Neil Young, dios creates dreamy treble filled jangle-pop that defies generation. “Nobody’s Perfect” kicks off their self-titled album, acting as both a break-up letter and a declaration of independence from a soon-to-be ex-girlfriend. I knew I liked this band when at 2:45 into the song, silence erupts and is then interrupted by the intrusion of each instrument coming back slowly to a build-up of great magnitude, ala Weezer’s “Only in Dreams”, only to be ended, almost a minute later, with the drums going “tak-a-ta-tak-a-ta-tak” instead of the usual obligatory thumping bass drum, and after the last chorus, almost as an afterthought, a postscript to the “Dear Jane” letter that doesn’t sound like it should be part of the song at all. Nice.
“Starting Five” follows, and hearkens back to that sixties sound we all know and love. There are even the sounds of children playing and birds chirping added in. One also has to admire the balls to have a chorus of “woo-hoo-hoo’s” instead of real lyrics. I’m still not sure how I feel about the third track, called “The Uncertainty of How Things Are”. It starts off with a piano that sounds like John Belushi doing his Beethoven impersonation on SNL, and then goes all Pink Floyd on you at the end with a choral group over looped dialogue. Huh? I like it, but it’s not their best.
“Fifty Cents”, not a reference to the rapper, is, however, one of the standouts, sounding like it could be a solo Rivers Cuomo tune. When the tune switches from solo guitar to keyboard and singer Joel Morales (Flying J) starts “oooo-ing”, I was transported to another place and time. “All Said & Done” could have fit onto Pet Sounds with ease, while “You’ll Get Yours” is a curse filled later Beatles-era song. The band then masterfully tackles Neil Young’s “Birds” from his album After the Gold Rush, especially the twangy sound made by guitarist Kevin Morales (Special K). “Just Another Girl” is a sister song to “Julia” at first and then has a bridge that sounds cribbed from “Karma Police”, but at least it’s cribbed well.
My favorite track on the album is the catchy “You Got Me All Wrong”. It is one of those songs that is so well crafted that it makes you wonder where you heard it before, even if it is the first time you have ever heard it. It’s not necessarily that it is similar to another song; it’s just that it’s so damn good it tricks you into believing you must have heard it before.
The Brothers Morales, along with bandmates Jackie Monzon (Monzo), Jimmy Cabez de Vaca (Jimi Camaro), and J.P. Caballero (JPMD), have a great throwback sound coupled with enough originality to create a timeless quality that most bands only hope for. Hawthorne’s in the hizouse, and Dios have brought it back.