The five lads who make up chamber pop/rock quintet Miracles Of Modern Science all attended Princeton University. When you hear that, it’s easy to assume that Miracles Of Modern Science—or MOMS, as the band is often called—is made up of no more than a handful of privileged young men hand-waving their way through quirky pop songs and hoping that their Ivy League B.A. magically translates into a seal of credibility. Don’t make that mistake. The band’s debut LP, the self-released Dog Year, is one of 2011′s best surprises, combining a sincere musical vision with a lighthearted, genial aesthetic in an approachable but nonetheless complex piece of pop.

With guitars playing an integral role in practically all of today’s music (dubstep notwithstanding), one might perish the thought of listening to an indie rock album without the, well, rock. And, yes, MOMS is a band with mandolin, cello, violin, upright bass and drums, with no familiar bass or guitar sounds to be found. But the change in soundscape is ultimately a refreshing one: In addition to making songs like “Space Chopper” and “Eating Me Alive” more intimate and folksy, the strings create plenty of needle-sharp, crescendoing riffs to propel them forward. The ominous undercurrents of bass and handclaps function especially well on the appropriately titled “Tensity,” creating a feeling of suspense that no Les Paul could imitate. Ultimately (and surprisingly), the chamber-pop model translates well to rock—there’s less buzz and more deliciously creepy build in cuts like “Quantum Of Solace,” as dynamics take priority over distortion.

There’s also a healthy sense of humor, as evidenced by the silly titles and lyrics of opener “MOMS Away!” Space is also a prominent theme (“Bossa Supernova,” “I Found Space,” “Space Chopper”). There are no tired Homer references or heavy-handed attempts to shove poor James Joyce into a two-minute pop song; just earnest, fun songs about space and animals and girls. Perhaps the best thing about Dog Year is that it doesn’t try so damn hard to win your affections: It just does, with clever, catchy rock wrapped up in a fun chamber pop package.