"Sonic Child"

By The Great Sun Jester

I can definitely relate to this album. The concept behind Zodiac's latest release from Prosthetic Records, "Sonic Child", is the story of how music helps shape our experiences, fills us with dreams, and throws us a life preserver in our darker moments. This is a bit of a different approach for the band who have penned gritty, very adult rockers on previous albums, but Zodiac ranks as one of the best young bands working today and prove they are unafraid to take risks. They know they can make it work.

 It didn't bode well at first. The spoken word introduction simply didn't work for me. I found it unnecessary and oddly insecure as if the band felt they needed a "title card" of sorts providing context for the obvious. It isn't a serious misstep, but even if it were, the following song redeems it completely. "Swinging On The Run" burns with an understated simmer like your throat after a drink of great scotch. Perhaps it is, at this late date in history, clichéd to point out how Nick Van Delft's bluesy lyricism on guitar works as another vocalist, but his tasteful playing is rich with melody.

"Sad Song" is a highlight. Placing this track near the middle of the album's running order reveals something about the band's intentions. I theorize that its placement is aimed at a larger dynamic design Zodiac has for the album. Their albums support the idea that Zodiac is writing with an almost architectural eye. They aren't erecting complex musical structures, but clearly orchestrate their material to lull, bludgeon, calm, or otherwise move a listener. The weathered sincerity present in "Sad Song" moved me. Whether this is straight autobiography, an imaginative tale, or a little of both, this song plays in an intensely personal way. Superb vocals and guitars shine on this track.

The piercing melody from Nick Van Delft's acoustic slide guitar opens "A Penny & A Dead Horse". This solo performance dominating the first half of the track gives way to an extended instrumental break filled with thick swells of feedback and scattered percussion. When the song returns, it plays as a breezy, full-band workout. The different sections fit together, but I will confess a little let down by the electric section. The opening half of the song is direct, breathtakingly immediate.

 Soft, rippling guitar winds its way over faint strands of Hammond organ as "Rock Bottom Blues" begins. This is straight electric blues, ripped from the back pages of Clapton, Gary Moore, and Led Zeppelin, but given its own particular Zodiac twist from its unpredictability. The band resists milking the slow tempo and verse structure for the entire song and shifts surprisingly into a throbbing rock stomp that gives the tune its own distinct slant. "Just Music" is a rousing closer. There isn't a song on any of their albums where the band doesn't sound like they're playing in some degree of inspired fever. While the song shows off a lot of musical firepower, one of the genuine highlights is Van Delft's ability to coax or machine gun words from the song.

This is the band's third album in a little less than three years. Unlike many acts who produce on the road rather than in the studio or songwriting at home, Zodiac clearly considers themselves an album band. "Sonic Child" isn't a perfect album from them, but the triumph I expect from them is still possible and this is a necessary album to writing and recording even better ones in the future. Recommended.