Austra – Olympia Review

There has been something of an electronic music craze coming from Canada in recent years. It’s similar to the course that the neo-psychedelic scene from Down under has took in that perhaps it hasn’t got everyone’s undivided attention. From it all, Austra (From Toronto) are one of the stand-out acts and on Tuesday they released their their second album. Which is the signal for intense scrutiny for the music press who love to tear apart bands on their second attempts. But Austra were already under a bit of scrutiny due to the nature of their lead vocalist Katie Stelmanis. She was classically trained as an opera singer from a young age and so many question what she’s doing in a band and all the over nonsense about hidden motives and all that crap. Having said that, her voice is of an acquired taste. You either like it or you dont. Imagine Florence and the Machine and Bjork someone said. It does at times seem a little forced and wavery but she knows what she’s doing vocally so it’s more a case of choice than a requirement to sound the way she does.

The album is said to have a more ‘bombastic throb’ to it and this is the case with the lead single ‘Home’. It features a typical textured build up of the instrumentals from the opening with the dramatic piano and really generates a sense of atmosphere with Stelmanis’ highly considered and powerful vocal. The simple percussion sample joins and change of key from the piano which then all follow the return of the original key from piano. This then triggeres a back and forth of all elements in the chorus with the rousing vocals and back to the more bare verses. Beyond that, it’s thrown in a percussion driven instrumental which is great apart from the brass perhaps which was a little too much. Nevertheless it blends right back into the grand feel of the chorus with ease and the song as a whole has been worked well with it’s broken and back and forth nature to ensure the chorus is that little bit more intense and atmospheric while Katie’s vocals adapt well to the changes as you’d expect. The ‘bombastic throb’ is the epitomisation of ‘Painful Like’ with the deep bounce-like synth to begin with which is complimented by a higher pitched synth sound. The vocal progression from verse to bridge then chorus is excellent with the instumentals constucting a bigger sound in conjuntion with it. The song also featues backing vocals too and generally more synth frills and extra contributions to all in all make it more of a dance tune but while maintaining the thought that’s went into the song as a whole. The two singles are pretty solid offerings and generally give you an idea to the sound of the rest of the album.

However that does not mean the rest of the album is of the same standard. The album opener ‘What We Done’ has a great muted, dark and slightly sinister synth sound to start with and when Katie’s vocals are isolated it really works effectively to give her the space to explore her vocal range a little. ‘Sleep’ too starts off well with the retro synth organ sounds that suddenly break into the chorus with Katie enhancing her vocals while some percussion from an actual drum kit joins in to create a great pace and rythm to the song that works well with Stelmanis’ vocals that are not going at the same pace, but the two meet well in the middle. But after about five or six tracks in you have heard all you need to hear really. Nothing really stands out after that and the tricks used elsewhere are largely used here too. ‘Annie (Oh Muse, You)’ has sort of a 90’s dance feel about it but everything else just seems to been filler for the album. Songs such as ‘Reconcile’, ‘We Become’ and others are by no means bad but they are just a little uninspired compared to the first part where the two singles sit. It does let the album down slightly like Bankrupt’s album fillers did for Phoenix earlier in the year. However it’s not to that extent and what’s good about Olympia is that the albums good songs are of a higher standard than that of Bankrupt and are have been more considered at every detail to create the sub-effects that Bankrupt didn’t do for Phoenix. It’s by no means the second album disaster but it could be prepped up in places.

Austra – Olympia = 7/10

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