Across the Board: Sonic Boom

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Submitted by Jason Hillenburg

Canadian rock act Across the Board returns with their second full-length effort, a follow-up to their EP Amends, featuring eight songs geared in the same pop-rock direction they explored with their first release. MC2 Music Media produced and recorded the album in Toronto and help present the conceptual ambitions of this album in such a way it strengthens the release’s chance of enjoying the rapturous critical reception it deserves. Musician and front-woman Jacqueline Auguste doesn’t obey rules of linear narrative with this self-proclaimed rock opera, but there’s a clear coherence emerging from the collection as a whole and the songs stand on their own as individually compelling and entertaining musical works. Her life and creative partner bassist Andy Ramjattan is a critical piece in Across the Board’s approach and complements Auguste’s talents in tangible ways. Sonic Boom consolidates Across the Board’s reputation as one of the more intelligent and musically rich acts working in the indie scene today.

The title song features strong drumming mixed high in the band’s presentation, but it’s a uniformly more melodic and laid back outing than some of the borderline hard rock fare found on Sonic Boom. The vocal melody is, far and away, much more outwardly beguiling and Auguste’s singing brings nuance to her soon familiar power. Some light backing vocals further sweeten the sound. Another gem on Sonic Boom is the track “I’ve Already Fallen for You”, written by Paul Nanuwa, and it has a comfortable jangle underlying the light rock aspects of the song, but it shifts into a harder-edged attack at brief points during the performance. The drumming, once again, leaves a mark on the song and Jacqueline Auguste’s singing is especially effective.

We move in an acoustic direction with the track “No Curtain Call” and the melancholy percolating in the heart of both the vocals and pensive accompaniment are a welcome shift in sound and focus at this point in the album. It sets up the album’s second half in an ideal way. “Nothing to Say” has a gliding, melodic excellence with an unsettled streak running through its mood. A lot of the song’s success, once again, hinges on the talent for dramatic turns the drumming brings to their performance, but one of the album’s best choruses makes a big impact as well.

One of the second half’s more memorable songs, a Bono/The Edge penned cover entitled “Kite”, conjures faint echoes of U2, but Across the Board twists the song in their own individual direction and it benefits enormously from a twin vocal performance. The tense, slashing guitar and thunderous drums opening “Two Step” acts as a fanfare of sorts for the song and Auguste’s singing soon accompanies it with the same mood of passion and cathartic release we hear hinted at in the music.

“Two Step” has an inexorable, musical locomotive forward charge to it bordered at times on hard rock, but the band remains far too musical for that label and, instead, latch onto a certain sort of muscular grandeur that some rock acts aim for, but rarely or inconsistently achieve. Across the Board, in contrast, is in full command of that sound. Across the Board deserves kudos for producing a studio album full of ambition, sharp intelligence, and accessibility. It’s undoubtedly the Canadian band’s peak moment so far, but there’s plenty here that indicates the band is still capable of more. Sonic Boom’s eight songs are among the best guitar-oriented pop rock you’ll hear in 2018.