As melodic as it is melodramatic, the Canadians’ debut LP is a dark-hearted triumph.
Alix Buscovic 2011
It’s a pleasing synchronicity: the very day that Kate Bush, the reclusive queen of quirk-pop, finally leaves her castle in the clouds to release her first album in six years, another Kate with a voice made for echoing around bleak landscapes, and a penchant for drama and the otherworldly, brings out her debut with Austra.
Former opera student Katie Stelmanis has been filling Toronto with the sound of music since she hit double figures – first as a chorister, then with post-punked-up gay grungers Galaxy; solo, and now, as singer-songwriter in this goth electro trio that bears her (middle) name.
She clearly hasn’t forgotten her training. Feel It Break is full of theatrical intensity, its set hung with murky, velvet synths on which her darkly luminescent vocals soar and swim, inherently melancholic, however exultant they appear. With its dancefloor-friendly beats (think The Knife with soul), it’s the sort of record you might stick on just before heading to an alternative club.
Which would be a bad idea, unless you have 47 minutes (or more – it’s addictive) to spare, for Stelmanis, bassist Dorian Wolf and drummer Maya Postepski have created something that plays as a carefully balanced, organic whole, like an inadvertent concept album. That’s more a testament to the skill with which it’s been put together than because it lacks standout moments; in fact, half the songs here could be released as singles, as Austra are as melodic as they are melodramatic.
Opener Darken Her Horse is a fitting curtain-raiser of a spellbinding debut which revives the heavily-eyelinered, Elnett-sprayed corpse of British new wave, and casts it in mists of ethereal magic. Hymn-like, all chords and church choir vocals, it slowly builds to surging, Japan-inflected heights which lead you to the ‘floor to bust your best robot moves. As does last single Beat and the Pulse, which evokes the era’s sleazier Soho scene with keyboard lines redolent of 80s revivalists Fischerspooner and Soft Cell chimes. Elsewhere, Hate Crime, with its plentiful "oohoo"s (as beloved by Katie as Kate) and the gorgeous, incantatory The Choke (which is reminiscent of fellow Canadians The Organ) are hook-heavy enough to get you repeating such unlikely mantras as "Sign / The consent forms" as you make extravagant arm movements around the living room. You might feel a little daft, but the odd lyrics only add to this band’s appealing mystery.
Let’s just hope Austra don’t find their inner recluse any time soon.