Sonic Boom is the second full length release from Toronto based Across the Board, a genuine musical unit centered on the twosome of singer/songwriter Jacqueline Auguste and her life partner bassist Andy Ramjattan. The pair first formed Across the Board in 2013 and quickly established a name for themselves as one of the most bracing rock acts Canada has produced in some time. Their original material is quite strong, a fact reflected on this new release, but the band is unafraid to take on outside material they invariably cover with expert skill and as if those songs were actually their own. The conceptual ambitions of the album are lofty and describe an experience listeners won’t readily relate to, but Auguste’s songwriting and the band’s choices in outside material has the effect of bringing listeners into what is, in essence, a personal meditation on the price paid to pursue dreams in popular music.
It’s really impressive how the band gives the title song room to breathe at key points and never over-clutters their musical arrangement with a lot of extraneous baggage. “Sonic Boom” has a lightly hypnotic quality thanks to the drumming and the vocals are a mix of straight ahead singing from Auguste and massed harmonies coming in intermittently. The band primarily relies on original material, but draws from outside writers as appropriate. The second song, however, is all Jacqueline Auguste. “Back to the Tracks” is definitely drawn from her and the band’s personal autobiography as a touring unit, but there’s likewise a streak of nationalist pride in the songwriting that recognizes Canadian railways form an important part of the country’s identity thanks to how they served the national interest since being first established. Newcomers are introduced to how the band builds things around the guitar and an assertive rhythm section attack, but there’s always an orchestrated feel surrounding their presentation that comes off nicely. “I’ve Already Fallen For You” is a classic pop rock love song in many ways and the band tackles Paul Nanuwa’s song with airy certainty that keeps its emotions urgent. The interplay between the keyboards and drumming is very effective and key to the song’s transitions.
We get a nice shift in mood and pacing with the acoustic track “No Curtain Call” and, as the album’s press materials advertise, this is definitely one of the more emotionally affecting moments on Sonic Boom and is a welcome added color in the album’s spectrum. “Kite” is a Bono/The Edge authored tune from U2’s All that You Can’t Leave Behind album, but Across the Board is much more than a by the number cover act. Instead, they retain many of the qualities making the original so memorable while giving it a distinctive ATB touch, in particular because of the vocals. The album’s final song “Two Step”, composed by the band’s producer Darnell Toth and Toronto based rocker Jessica Speziale, gives the band and Jacqueline Auguste alike a real ripper to wrap things up with and the tough-minded musical turn gets the lung busting vocal it deserves. Across the Board will greatly expand both their following and reputation with this album and there’s no question that these songs will adapt well to the band’s live act and prove to be set list standards for years to come.