I found a great deal to enjoy in Austra's 2011 debut 'Feel It Break'.
This had everything and more to do with the voice of Katie Stelmanis;
a bit of a 'Marmite' instrument, truth-be-told, with its pronounced
Bjork-ish timbre and dramatic vibrato in her upper register but one
which becomes more approachable with greater familiarity and exposure.
Back for a second crack of the sonic whip, Ms Stelmanis and her fine band
of minstrels have become more listener-friendly in this collection of
twelve new compositions. The beats are stronger and the arrangements have
greater form and solidity than their earlier work. The affectionate nods
and winks to the eighties and a more pronounced electro-pop sensibility make
'Olympia' seem set to win this talented ensemble a whole lot of new friends.
Standout tracks include opening number 'What We Done' which emerges from
the clicks and crackles of its introductory bars in a cloud of warm brass,
grumbling bass and some nicely crafted harmonies; 'Painful Like' with its
bubbling Moroder-esque ostinato, crisp disco high-hat and sparkling synths;
'Home', an elegant melodic invention which delivers what is almost certainly
Ms Stelmanis' finest vocal performance and following a melancholy and strangely
affecting first subject 'You Changed My Life' discovers a dark and undulating
groove which propels the song towards an unsettling and ambiguous conclusion.
There is substantial development evident in the evolution of Austra's vision.
Keep them in your sights; I sense that there will be even greater things to come.
on 8 July 2013
I won't write much about this album, because the other three reviewers (The Wolf - always a reviewer I take note of - Bobby Chariots and Scott Davies), albeit with differing viewpoints, kind of sum it up.
For me, this isn't as instantly attractive and listenable as 'Feel It Break'. Having said that, I never expected it to be. Yes, the voice of Katie Stelmanis is as brilliant as before and the lustre is there. The melodies again all seem to be in minor keys - no bad thing and something I find attractive in the band.
The album has a couple of standout tracks for me, notably 'Sleep' which really does hit the spot for me, as do 'You Changed My Life', `Fire' and 'Home'. I expect the others (all good) to grow on me much more as I continue to get into it. However, I can understand Scott's viewpoint that this is the second album slump, but if this is the slump, just wait until they hit form again. Three stars for a slump isn't bad going.
No, what this album does for me is say that Austra has produced a very good album, with an increase in confidence, and continue the tight quality of vocals, arrangements and instrumentation to produce a very good set of material. I'll continue to play this and I am sure it will be a constant in the car, MP3 and CD player.
on 27 August 2013
I loved the first album and played it to death, but there are only a few tracks that strong here. Those are great and sustain the album, but it feels like "a difficult second album" to me. One for existing fans, such as myself, rather than quite such a revelation for newcomers as the first one.
on 7 September 2013
A great fan of Feel it Break ( which I discovered through the remix of The Beat and the Pulse from Orbital's Pusher soundtrack ), what's pleasing about this album is that it develops their sound ( adding live instruments and a more organic, fluid sound ), pushes Katie's vocals and lyrics into more personal and intimate areas, and doesn't feel like a carbon copy of their popular debut. They have a very particular sound, not just down to Katie's extraordinary and often beautiful voice, but also to the style of music and instrumentation and the way the arrangements play around the vocals. This album feels a little more polished, and while it certainly lacks a stand out song such as The Villain or Lose It, it loses nothing for it - feeling like an album as a whole; intimate, heartbreaking, funny, and fragile. Standout songs are What We Done? and the heartbreakingly gorgeous Home.
on 7 November 2013
This is not a bad album, but it is also not great. I absolutely loved the first album and still listen to it whenever I can. I had high expectations for this follow up, but all I can say is that it is pleasant...and that's it. No real standout tracks. Hope for more with the next release.
on 16 July 2013
After the icy brilliance of "Feel It Break" (a classic debut album if ever there was), expectations were unsurprisingly high for the follow-up. The instrumentation is more varied and there is a dance-vibe, of sorts. Unfortunately, the songs just aren't as strong as before and over the course of 12 tracks, only three really set the pulse racing. Would of made a good debut, ironically.
on 21 June 2013
After hearing the first single, 'Home', I was concerned, to say the least. Gone were the wonderful early 80's sounds in favor of a more digital 90's feel. The song is saved only when the real drums kick in. But since I was such a fan of Feel It Break, I was optimistic. Now that I have had Olympia for several days, and have played it numerous times, I can say my concern was warranted.
The sounds throughout Olympia have in fact become more modern, which is a BAD thing. The charm of analogue synths are far more appealing than the crystalline digital blandness here. One song that could have been good, 'Annie', is made unlistenable with the more modern sound. There are a few 80's sounds scattered on Olympia, but in very short supply. The only thing that truly saves portions of the album is Maya's live drumming. Many of the songs are a slower tempo, which means less excitement. It seems to be little more that Katie crying song after song about a failed relationship. What happened to the awesome songs about witchcraft, etc? While some of the songs are nice, none are truly stunning. There is nothing near the creativity of 'Spellwork' (with its quivery keyboards, Katie's stunning vocals, and the way the drumbeats sound like little explosions), or 'The Villian' (with its throbbing beat and amazing chorus).
The album opens with the adequate 'What We Done?', which is little more than background music until it kicks in. Then it really comes to life. Then we go into the so-so adult contemporary sound of 'Forgive Me', before we get to the album's best track, 'Painful Like'. This is the closest thing to the excitement of their debut. This better be a single/video at some point. 'Sleep' is an appropriate title for the next track, because that's what it induces. Other so-so material follows in 'Fire', 'Reconcile', and 'You Changed My Life'. By the last track, 'Hurt Me Now', you realize that Katie has been listening to too much later day Kate Bush, which is not a good thing at all.
In recent interviews, Katie has stated her approach to this album was very different, in that she left the songs fairly bare and let the band fill them in, as opposed to doing most of it herself. Perhaps that was a really bad idea because this is not going to be a memorable classic, but hopefully just a live-and-learn stumbling block. And I really think it needs to be said that those two worthless backing singers have GOT TO GO! They detract from the music more than anything, with their bland to mediocre (and I'm being generous here) voices, and their laughable stage presence. They just sway and wave their arms like some sort of wannabe witches. I think the rest of Austra are extremely valuable, though maybe not in helping to construct the songs if this is the result.
Olympia makes me fearful that Maya's second band, Trust, may ditch the wonderful analogue synths in favor of a more polished sound as well, which will no doubt illicit a similar reaction. People always try to "grow" and "change", but more often than not, it backfires. Olympia is little more than passable background music, especially when you follow it up with a listen of Feel It Break. There is no comparison. Katie's voice is amazing, but it's not enough if the backdrop is bland. Let's see if the 3rd time is a charm.