After Austra's Olympia tour finished, Katie Stelmanis moved to Montreal for a change of pace that ended up feeling more like solitary confinement than solitude. However, the unexpected isolation may have been a blessing in disguise for her music: Future Politics is a direct, affecting set of songs about intimacy, technology, and above all, hope. The group strips back a bit from Olympia's lavish sounds, trimming down from a six-piece to the trio of Stelmanis, drummer Maya Postepski, and bassist/sound designer Dorian Wolf. Though there's nothing superfluous here, Austra's influences are wide-ranging, spanning Star Trek, Naomi Klein, and electro cumbia (a discovery Stelmanis made after leaving Montreal for Mexico City), which leaves its stamp on the haunting finale, "43," a song inspired by the 2014 kidnapping and massacre of 43 men in the Mexican city of Iguala. By acknowledging darkness, Stelmanis makes her idealism that much brighter -- a duality she uses brilliantly on Future Politics. She channels it through her vocals and beats, the forces driving Austra's music since "The Beat and the Pulse." The delicate waver in her voice does a lot of heavy lifting, carrying the pain of the present and hope for the future on songs like the slow-burning opener "We Were Alive" and "Utopia," where her tentative optimism is more poignant and powerful than a straightforward anthem. Later, the operatic purity of her high notes adds to the uncanniness of "I'm a Monster," while her tender delivery on "I Love You More Than You Love Yourself" reaffirms that no matter how conceptual it gets, Austra's music always has a personal element. The rhythms that animate Future Politics are just as expressive, adding defiant danceability to the title track, a crisp edge to "Gaia"'s swooning chorus, and an alluringly mechanical sensuality to "Angel in Your Eye." Austra may have traded some of Feel It Break's compelling rawness for a more polished approach on Olympia, but Future Politics' rare balance of poise and intensity makes it their most accomplished and emotionally satisfying album yet.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares