Feel the Beat and the Pulse
Canadian outfit Austra manage to pull of a great feat with their debut album Feel It Break by mixing quirky, off-beat, almost art-rock sensibilities with more recognizable constructs of pop or dance music. The care and intelligence with which the record is crafted, plus it’s ability to appeal to a diverse crowd, is its biggest achievement.
Katie Stelmanis, a former opera student who has released solo work under her name, is the main presence on the album. With a voice that hiccups and yelps as often as it sings, she manages to create a haunting figure even without the aid of the lush, but almost quite, synth backgrounds. The songs slowly unfold and tend to build to a dramatic overture, and the theme is almost always darkness.
With titles such as “Spellwork,” “Darken Her Horse” and a string of songs starting with the word “The’”(‘Choke’, ‘Villain’, ‘Noise’ and ‘Beast’), it’s no wonder that Austra has received comparisons to Zola Jesus or Fever Ray. But they’ve also received comparisons to Giorgio Moroder, and it is somewhat fitting, considering that the album is clearly intended to make you move. Sonically, however, it would be closer to compare the album to Cocteau Twins, or even Nine Inch Nails for its desire to meld goth and dance music. (The fluttery chorus of “Hate Crime” is almost an ode to Elizabeth Fraser.)
But regardless of who you compare Austra to, it doesn’t matter. They still do their own thing, and they do it well. The songs are almost all a variation on a theme, and they pull off the sound so well that it almost feels like a concept album. Extremely melodic, littered with church-hymn vocals and plenty of glimmer, there really isn’t a boring moment. Dare I say it’s almost a goth-club banger? Regardless of what you call it, Austra owns their brooding, synth laden, goth-tinged sound. It will be interesting to hear what they do next.