Further pushing Canada as one of the globe’s foremost purveyors of fine electronica, Austra’s follow up to 2011s sublime Feel it Break finds Katie Stelmanis and cohorts deliver more of the same excellence, if slightly more streamlined. Their time as media darlings hasn’t dampened their ability to write infectious and innovative electronica but this one needs a repeat listen to uncover its nuance.
The vocal intensity of their debut remains very much intact. Stelmanis’ voice casts spells with its backflips between quivering and imposing – something that provided much of the charm on Feel It Break. Though she is still the epicenter of the outfit, this time round there feels to be more community within the ranks: any small amount of disparity that made their previous release feel like a one-woman show has been ditched in favour of a stronger group dynamic. Percussion and synth take more of a front-row seat this time around and the vocals run parallel to the rest of the band’s skills.
There is an overlap between the two records, with Lead single ‘Home’ acting as an emotional counterpart to ‘Lose It’ with both intoning the vocalists fragile confidence. The nature of the music keeps it, and the rest of the album, from appearing as a retread of tried and tested though, with this albums vibe slightly more poppy than their first; ‘Home’ opens to balladic piano and signature vocals that sound on the brink of cracking then slides into a deep, almost tribal, beat.
The movement from their highly acclaimed first album only becomes apparent through invested listening. The more up-tempo ‘We Become’ features some of the first albums damp, reverbating back line but Stelmanis’ vocals don’t plumb the same depths they did before. The juxtaposition of her brooding voice with Sari and Romy Lightman’s coquettish backing vocals is like some Fever Ray/ Grimes hybrid – and it works a charm within this more mellow moment on the album. A brief skim over the tracks doesn’t afford a fully formed view of how they have honed the sound but they are a collection of songs you will want to hear further anyway.
As a whole this is as rewarding as its predecessor, although not readily different enough to merit the same praise. Spilling over with thought, intensity but with slightly less angst than Feel it Break this is a grower, even if it initially appears to be running the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” game.