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Published: 2004/07/29
by Jamie Lee

Test Pattern – Sonia Dada

Razor and Tie 7930185018-2

If America is the melting pot of ethnicities and ideals, Sonia Dada is its analogue in the musical cosmos. Nine members, multi-part harmonies, uninhibited joy — these traits bond like chromosomes to create one of the most auspicious collectives in music today, a multi-cultural fete cemented by Test Pattern, the band’s sixth offering.

Make no mistake — this album is saturated with pop music, and wrung out with international hands, allowing reggae beats and Middle Eastern sitar to intermingle comfortably in a blend brewed with Chicago blues and Southern soul. Rich Indian tapestries cover gospel alters in Sonia Dada's world, the irreverent marriage flowing free from the fingertips of guitarist and primary songwriter Dan Pritzker. The Sonia Dada experience, in terms of Test Pattern, is one that flows seamlessly, most tracks segueing into another in the midst of a lush, opium din haze that drifts thick with new themes, new voices, and new takes on familiar sounds. Most prevalent over the course of the album is the gospel overtones, perpetuated by the vocals of Michael Scott, Shawn Christopher, Paris Delane and Sam Hogan.

Sonia Dada's sound has universal appeal; the quiver of influences that float from this disc flirt consciously with world music — music your dad could tap his foot to. The sounds are sweet and robust, swelling gradually like a puffer fish in the cool green Atlantic. But the compositions are also edgeless, for lack of a better term. Not to say that Test Pattern doesn’t take risks. It does. From the funk-fueled "Temple," to the reggae backbeat of "Take Back," Sonia Dada is able to corral as many influences and sounds as one mind can conceive. But their uplifting, danceable grooves are remarkably benign and delicately placed, even at their most high energy.

Accompanying the disc is an ambitious film, also entitled Test Pattern, shot by cinematographer Jeth Weinrich while listening to the album. The 30-minute film is a collage of color and characters, and is rife with visual artistry both abstract and cohesive. Occasionally strange and ultimately uplifting, the film allows the music to construct the characters, and the viewer to define them.

Sonia Dada's mystical tones, Middle Eastern melodies, bluesy vocals, and permeating harmonies waft through like the spiraling incense smoke in a temple of Ganesha, and are uncanny companions. Yet collectively, dipped in professional polish, they complete the soaring, dream-like surges that permeate the album. The plethora of musical levels render Test Pattern a veritable soundtrack smudged with the fingerprint of Sonia Dada, and filled with variety, freshness and a beauty unexpected and often unattainable in music.

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