With a sound that recalls the dance beats of Cut Copy mixed with the vocals of Florence Welch, Austra is a Toronto based band led by classically trained pianist Katie Stelmanis. Along with drummer Maya Postepski, bassist Dorian Wolf, and some recently added auxiliary vocalists, Stelmanis and her bandmaters have managed to create a record of neon nostalgia that occasionally dips into the past while still retaining originality. Olympia is most definitely engaging, and though there are some lulls in the action, there is much to enjoy about Austra’s sophomore offering.
The album itself contains a myriad of vocal as well as instrumental textures, and Stelmanis can oftentimes swing from a Bjork-like wail to a coy coo within the course of a single song. Olympia begins quietly with “What We Done?” featuring heartbeat clicks and thick bass synthesizer before settling into a giant colorful groove. Even during the more subdued sections of music, Austra does a masterful job of building anticipation for the next crescendo. Second and third tracks, “Forgive Me” and “Painful Like” highlight the lead female vocals while also providing hooks to grab on to, whether it be with the bubbling bass of the latter, or the breezy chorus of the former.
Later on “Sleep” the beats per minute slow down, but the atmosphere is dialed up. There is an almost middle-eastern sounding synth intro and thump to underscore the singing of Stelmanis during the verse sections, and when the chorus beat hits the percussion is augmented by metallic clangs and enthralling echo.
Though the middle section of Olympia begins to lose the steam established by the earlier highlights, there is still some particularly good music to be found at the record’s conclusion. “We Become” is possibly the greatest track on the album, utilizing a tropical beat and keyboard phrase that wouldn’t be out of place on the Scarface sound track. The chorus references islands, and the whole vibe of the song definitely puts one in the mood for the strolling the Miami boardwalk in a white suit.
As I have a vested interest in dance bands that dish out ear worm jams while feverishly playing their own instruments, (see the aforementioned Cut Copy, LCD Soundsystem, or The Rapture) Austra has a great deal of appeal to me. Olympia served as a truly interesting introduction to the group, and I will be investing some time in listening to their debut album as well. Try it out on a humid night near the beach and see what kind of dance party ensues.