Austra’s new album, Future Politics, is Katie Stelmanis’ third album under that name. This release marks a turn towards a sparser sound, with a more limited palette than her previous work. However, does this reliance on glacial synths and Stelmanis’ voice alone make for an interesting album?
On first listen the album sounds fantastic, the mix of synth and voice adding up to a cohesive artistic statement carried over a whole album. As you become more familiar on further listens you realise that that’s it. That’s all there is. The songwriting itself is lacking here. The title track is an illustration of this. The instrumentation set up in the intro of ‘Future Politics’ is swamped by the rest of the track, while the chorus is repeated ad nauseam, bulking out the song’s length.
Some songs share this trait, with ‘Beyond A Mortal’ barely justifying its almost six minute run time. Others are the opposite, petering out after three minutes and leaving no discernible trace. ‘Gaia’ starts with a beautiful melody, resembling classic Kraftwerk, and then seems to drift away, leaving no mark on the listener.
In the end this is an underwhelming effort. The album feels flat, with almost every track clocking in around the same tempo, with the same synth sounds present on every number bar ‘Deep Thought.’ The album is pretty but with no depth. No track grabs you and demands your attention, while at times it feels like the album has started again or gone back to a previous track, such are the similarities between songs.
It must be noted that Stelmanis’ voice is great, reaching into her upper register and resembling a robotic Kate Bush at times. It’s a beautiful instrument but it can’t carry the songs alone. This is a pity because there are glimmers of greatness in there, the arpeggiated bass line intro to ‘Future Politics’, the chorus of ‘I Love You More Than You Love Yourself’, the album highlight ‘Freepower’. It’s just that these elements are obscured by the monochrome production, all cold synths and dull drum machine sounds.
Future Politics is a competent exercise in synth-pop but not one that displays any character. It starts and it ends, with barely a hook in-between to grab the listener. A disappointing effort overall from Austra.