The New Jersey band Sonoa formed in the summer of 2018 as guitarist Gabriel Yoder Shenk and drummer Anthony Gallardo Vega were recording their debut Waves of Change. Initially it was going to be an acoustic record but by chance they found a bassist and a lead guitarist before the record was finished and the result completely changed the band’s sound. Songs written for Waves of Change were done over the course of about a year and a half by Gabriel Yoder Shenk and were performed at various coffeehouses at a time when the band had a more acoustic, singer/songwriter approach. Even though the band is now a quartet, you can still hear that quality of intimacy within the group’s music. Sonoa’s sound has been compared to indie rock bands such as Death Cab for Cutie. The band’s main songwriter (not sure who that is), states that the album’s songs came out of a period of his life when he was becoming “increasingly aware of life's uncertainty and of one's own agency or lack thereof in one's own life experience.”
To start things off is “The Hour” a harmonious jaunt that’s lofty with a mellow vibe. The distinction between verse and chorus is barely noticeable, making for a jam styled song except for when the drummer, Anthony Gallardo Vega breaks down a sweet beat with some nice surprises. “Expectations” begins with what sounds like a sample dub underneath layers of guitars, drums and vocals. The song is bolder and has a more straightforward rocking edge to it. “Alone” showcases Sonoa’s more subtle side and it’s more cautious in the beginning. The chorus is louder and loose, and I thought the way the band chose to end the tune was quite good. “Johnny” feels like the band took some elements from ’80s and ‘90s alternative, say for example with the song’s main melody and chord structure. The words tell a story inside a musical format that feels familiar and well worn.
“Capsize” is a fun and catchy song with quirky and lighthearted moments, even though the lyrics may not mirror the lighter musical style. Anyway, I liked how the band wrote this one and it was one of my favorites. “Something More” features guitars that are stepping back in the shadows and the drums, and Chris Castano’s bass, take on a bolder sound. “Playing Scales” rocks out fast and hard, and Shenk’s and Pimentel’s guitars sound fantastic on this one in how they play off one another. I thought this was another tune where the group takes a page from the old school playbook – there was something about it that sounded college rock with a bit of intellectual sophistication. The band really brings the goods towards the end and find a groove where everything sounds damn sweet!
“Waves of Change” has a steady, bobbing-head beat that kind of reminded me a little of Vampire Weekend. Overall, I liked how the band arranged this one, but what really gives this song that extra something is Evelyn Da Costa’s congas – a nice addition for sure! “Before I Die” begins with a full, bright guitar playing and then jumps into a “chug-chug-chug-chug” guitar rhythm. This one has definite attitude, both lyrically and in its musical style. And, it has one of the best lines that I think, speaks to the spirit of rock and roll music – “I just wanna play some songs before I die.” How simple and beautiful is that? Sometimes, these kinds of songs are all a band needs to be remembered for all eternity. The last number is “Life is Behind Them” and Sonoa wraps things up with a loud-soft-loud approach. What was interesting to me was that Vega turned off the snare rake during some parts, so that the drum sounded like a high-pitched tom drum. Sorry, nerdy drummer lingo, but just for the record, drummers notice these things.
All in all, for a band who once started out as only an acoustic act and have barely been together as a quartet for not even a year, these guys are tight and well-rehearsed. I sense that they have a lot more to say.
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