Austra - Olympia

A bit warmer, a bit lusher and a bit less lonely.

It’s hard to get away from the fact that Austra’s Katie Stelmanis has something of a voice. It sits at the centre of a lot of their songs, acting as a big, attention sucking black hole from which which many of the other elements of their music struggle to escape. To criticise it would be a like asking when Hendrix’s bandmates didn’t attempt to play their instruments with an unexpected body part, but it does makes listening somewhat of a singular experience.

You tend to focus on exactly what is emanating from Stelmanis’ gullet.You know that bullshitty “you made that song your own” white noise rolled out in praise of anyone who doesn’t sound like a facsimile of some godawful R&B singer from the mid 90s? Well for Stelmanis it’s actually true. Her voice rises and falls, flitters and flutters, and is by turns deeply melodramatic and deeply vulnerable.

Which is almost certainly what years of operatic training will do for you. On her first album (2011’s ‘Feel It Break’) it found a perfect counterpoint in the slightly withdrawn, icy planes of electronica the band put together. Here, the voice remains much the same (and no less impressive) but the backing is a bit warmer, a bit lusher and a bit less lonely.

Which, given the more collaborative nature of the making of ‘Olympia’, makes sense. Flagrantly disregarding any notions of downsizing in these austere times, Austra have doubled in size to number six. It means the palette seems broader, brighter and bouncier. At times there’s a hint of it going somewhere a little 80s. There are also times when it reminds you of Fever Ray, particularly in the distinctly organic, and desperately sad, ‘You Changed My Life’, and there are times when the sulky pulses sound a lot like Depeche Mode.

There are also plenty of moments where it’s very, very good. ‘Alright Like’, sadly not performed in the Geordie accent the title suggests, dances with occult mischief. ‘Home’ is magnificently teetered on the brink of madness, complete with stabbing piano and Stelmanis quivering on the line between caring and Kathy Bates from Misery. But where the debut would have accompanied it with a wintery blast of gothic noise, here it ends up going for a right old knees up.

And there the knees mostly remain. It meanders a touch in the middle, but in general ‘Olympia’ is a genuinely bold attempt from Austra to expand on their debut while retaining most of what it was that made them stand out in the first place.

Tags: Austra, Reviews, Album Reviews

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