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.