Gabrielle Shonk Meets Your Gaze on 'Across the Room'

BY Stephan BoissonneaultPublished Feb 23, 2023

Across the Room, the sophomore album from Quebec City's Gabrielle Shonk, began with a question: how do you admit that you've veered off the path, and how can you begin to piece yourself back together? 

The question arises on opener "How We Used to Be," a smooth '90s R&B reflection on a past relationship — in this case, with Shonk's former self. Shonk''s voice is ever-present; loud and quiet at once, it's as if she's pouring her soul into a personal phone call with a best friend. 

Shonk rose into the limelight quickly when her self-titled debut earned her a JUNO nomination in 2019. Everyone, inducing her former major label, expected her to produce gold immediately — it was an immense and sudden pressure, causing her to question her creativity and vision. In the face of this internal battle, Shonk focused on touring her debut, finding brief moments in between green rooms before live sets to scribble down song ideas. 

One song that came from this emotionally turbulent period was "Reminds Me of You," co-written with friend and collaborator Jessy Caron of Men I Trust. The sombre acoustic track is about grief, and feels like an early Amy Winehouse deep cut, not just in Shonk's vocal cadence but in the light, jazzy keyboard chords that seem to swing out of tune as they oscillate. 

When the pandemic hit, it gave Shonk time to breathe and find a reinvigorated artistic vision. She had to remember how to not only make music again, but how to love the process. She went back to some of the music of her childhood — George Harrison, Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, Al Green — and rediscovered her adoration for simple melodies that stay with you hours after your first listen. You can hear this influence first-hand on a song like "5 A.M.," which follows the same breed of catchy bass groove found on Al Green's Let's Stay Together while feeling modern and timeless all the same.

The only track that feels a bit out of place is "Aftertaste," a subtle club song about the pitfalls of over partying — we've all been there — with animated synths and hip-hop-biting bass. It's not a bad song by any means, but it sounds so vastly different from its counterparts that it pulls you briefly from Shonk's otherwise cohesive narrative journey of rediscovery. 

Gabrielle Shonk could have been one of those artists who released a fantastic debut and then burned out — another victim of an industry that produces and recycles artists like cheap plastic — but she didn't. She persevered, returning with an album just as strong, hopeful and clear-eyed as her debut.
(Arts & Crafts)

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