From the swaying coos and house-inspired synths of “Painful Like” to the soaring and bittersweet piano-led melancholia of “Home”, you get the feeling that you’re being spoken to directly from the heart, says Daniel Jones.
Some albums stick with you; burn themselves into your musical aura like a memory. As someone who listens to an immense amount of music in a week, both for work and pleasure, that number tends to be fairly low. Let me tell you a story:
It was my first summer in Berlin, and I couldn’t have asked for a better one. The grayness that pervades the city had dissipated, I was madly in love, and everything felt fresh and new. Feel It Break, Austra’s debut, was the album of choice for my lover and I. I’d listen to it on my way to see her, strutting on air to “Villain”’s pounding drums. We’d dance together to “Spellwork” in her room, and I’d delight in dropping “Beat and The Pulse” in a DJ set just to see her face light up and body move in the wild way that was so specifically her. Somehow, it became not only our album, but also Berlin’s album. It spoke to me of promise, permanence, and joy. You don’t really get a lot of albums like that in your life.
Two years later and both she and the fresh promise of the city have gone, and an aura of gray cold hangs over summer like an old washcloth. Yet Feel It Break remains just as fresh and wonderful as ever, even if the memories attached do not. That’s why Olympia, the Toronto group’s recently released follow-up, was an album I waited for with trepidation. It had a lot to live up to in my mind.
It wasn’t the immediate ear-grabber its predecessor was, I admit. Opener “What We Done?” burns slow, evolving from a minimalist formula of Katie Stelmanis’ operatic vocals and spurts of twinkling synths into a thrumming and complex dance beast. Evolution is what Olympia is all about, in fact—that, and Stelmanis’ beautiful voice, which dominates any instrumental you care to put behind it. There’s a confidence that you only see in second albums; I don’t like to say “effortless”, as there is far too much strength in her voice for that, but it feels that way. From the swaying coos and house-inspired synths of “Painful Like” to the soaring and bittersweet piano-led melancholia of “Home”, you get the feeling that you’re being spoken to directly, straight from the heart.
Unlike the goth-tinged esoterica of Feel It Break, much of the lyrical content here is indeed personal and centered around relationships, and perhaps that’s the biggest reason Olympia hits home for me. When Stelmanis sings, “You are not with me,” when she softly wails, “You changed my life for the best,” there’s a level of heart-rending sincerity that’s impossible not to be touched by. Had the tone itself been one of tragedy it might have all been a bit much, but there’s also a power, an inner strength that speaks of heartbreak, but also healing. Austra aren’t the same band I fell in love with during that first, perfect summer, and that’s okay. As Stelmanis sings over the skittering beat of “Reconcile”, “You will love again.”˜
Olympia is out now on Paper Bag Records.
Published July 02, 2013. Words by Daniel Jones.