Powered by engrossing female harmonies and the dynamism of the female spirit, Sonica creates anthems for peace, love, and change. Largely an extension of vocalist, producer, and composer Thana Alexa’s ONA project, Sonica combines Alexa’s skills and vision with those of charismatic vocalist Nicole Zuraitis and bassist Julia Adamy. Over the album’s brief 30 minutes, the trio combines jazz eclecticism with elements of pop, folk, and soul music, creating a kind of 21st-century hybrid Staple Singers built on intricate harmonies, hopeful messages, and mind-blowing drumming courtesy of Antonio Sánchez, Dan Pugach, and Ross Pederson.
Recorded and produced at Alexa’s home studio in New York, Sonica commences with “Doyenne,” which includes a spoken-word excerpt from women’s-rights activist and abolitionist Sojourner Truth’s 1851 speech “Ain’t I a Woman,” bookended with snippets of Gloria Steinem and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai.
Consciously fashionable, the trio follows contemporary production throughout, as on a cover of Bon Iver’s “Michicant,” Zuraitis’ plaintive arrangement and performance a melancholic muse. A Zuraitis original, “Come a Long Way,” continues the somber tone, but with a wonderful sense of ebb and flow pushing and prodding the song’s central theme of mental-health advocacy.
A thoughtful, harmony-infused reading of Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s in Need of Love Today” precedes the album’s centerpiece, “Change It,” which crushes climate-change deniers with such pointed lyrics as “Watch the seas rise because we won’t compromise” and “Science isn’t a game/we must listen and admit we are to blame” over a heaving, body-jolting arrangement.
The album closes with a sentimental Irish favorite, “Danny Boy.” Notwithstanding that odd misstep in an album of bold activism, Sonica makes protest music hipsters, millennials, and even cave dwellers can embrace.