on 20 February 2012
I walked into a record shop intent on buying the excellent album by Beth Jeans Houghton and this album was playing. Well, I'm a sucker for good synth pop and, at a very reasonable seven quid, it accompanied Ms Houghton home with me.
This is a sheer delight. Opera trained singer / founder member / songwriter Katie Stelmanis and her band have put together an album of eleven wonderful tracks, all in minor keys. I think I read that she has said she is unable to write songs in major keys ... well, I bet she could if she wanted to, but why try when she can do very nicely thank you in minor keys.
My fellow reviewer, The Wolf, has suggested we let him know our own description of Katie's voice. Well, to me, it's fragile at times, but when she needs to stretch it for the high notes, she gets there with no problem. Sorry, Wolf, I can't do any better than that; anyway, your description is pretty accurate. The one thing is that it blends and compliments the excellent keyboards, bass and drums to such a degree that it acts as an additional instrument.
The album starts with the very strong "Darken Her Horse" and continues on that very high plain until "The Choke" arrives, which sends the album into the stratosphere - yes, I'm rather partial to this track and have been told I've sung it in my sleep ... hmm! The rest of the album is simply brilliant, until we get to "The Noise", which is another special track.
There is nothing complicated about this album. It's just great tracks of darkly-laced lyrics and jaunty melodies (even minor chord melodies can be jaunty, I think.) The vocals are quite brilliant - I love her voice - and the harmonies are stunning. The other instrumentalists are bassist Dorian Wolf (no relation to The Wolf?) and drummer Maya Postepski, who make Austra a very tight band instrumentally.There is a distinct darkness about the whole album which, for me, adds to the excitement of the album.
I don't know Japan's music well, so will leave comparisons to other, more knowledgeable, reviewers. What I will say is that there are only very strong tracks on this album and it will take an album of utter magnificence to prevent this from being my album of the year. Now there's a statement!
One last point, those who follow music will not find this very interesting and may disagree with this observation, but what is it about Canada, a big country in terms of area but not necessarily in musical terms? You have Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, the Rankin family, Stan and Garnet Rogers and a whole bunch more. Austra is, I would humbly suggest, another example of brilliant music coming out of that country.
A wonderful album and very highly recommended.
Added note: 26 June 2012
I downloaded the extra tracks which you can find on the Deluxe Version of this album. There are six more originals, two covers and a remix (by Clown of Slipknot) of "Beast & the Pulse". The six originals are excellent, the covers of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" and Roy Orbison's "Crying" (the latter, with swirling soprano vocals) are wonderful. I'm not so keen on the remix, but I can cope with it.