The ambiguous, symbolic, dark symetrical album cover may conjure impressions of an artsy Black Metal project but alas, no stretch of extremity is to be found here other than its sheer wonder. Austra are a Canadian Electronic Art Pop trio illuminated by the dazzling vocals of Katie Stelmanis who's voice resonates on a deeply emotional level. Her singing is strong in presence, consistent in tone and dazzles with a stunning vibrato, executed with mesmerizing precision in speed and evolution as it expands its ferocity with mechanical precision. She steals the show but the instrumentals are of merit too.
Forming the rhythm section, programmed drums take on a measured position between more organic samples and sturdy dance kits. The base kicks thud and the hi hats are a little less intrusive, setting the tone for atmospheric Synthpop with a sturdy backbone. Around it layers of moog synths and baselines come in and out of focus with temperament for the power of each melody, not trying to constantly output sound and allowing the songs the expand and contract, which they do, however it is always Stelmanis's voice that takes the limelight as the various melodies play of her lead.
With a deliberate and balanced sound it remains rather consistent in tone and structure, nothing too adventurous emerges from the formula and the songs go through the motions in typical formats with a great selection of drum kits and playful melodies to compliment. Short sweet and repetitive, the tracks consist of melodies in tuneful arrangements that make for easy digestion. Its poppy but artistic and its mood despite a bright exterior feels as if something more sinister may be over the horizon.
For me the album grows stronger as it progresses, the song "Loose It" has a very pop friendly vocal hook and sweet charm about it but as progression takes place the flow seems to loosen up a little. More indifference is to be found in aesthetics and melody as the music starts to resonate emotionally. There are moments where her voice is "enhanced" for lack of better word when reverbs give it a different edge and she delivers some breath taking singing on "The Choke" and more so on "The Beast" which sees the album out on a chilling high with goosebumps and all as she hits the most powerful notes of the record over a troublesome piano.
A great debut record that really highlights the beauty of Stelmanis's voice and its fair to say this will be one of my go to records for a long time. I have to thank my friend Lord Lovidicus for introducing it to me. I should also mention that Fever Ray came to mind in my first few listens. Although distinctly different in style and tone I can't help but think the band would be fans of her work. Loving this one, looking forward to picking up their second release and anticipating a third for 2017!
Favorite Tracks: Beat And The Pulse, Spellwork, The Choke, The Noise, The Beast