Austra

Olympia

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During the lengthy Feel It Break tour, Austra expanded from a trio to a six-piece, which allowed for more interplay among the band. This expansiveness helps Katie Stelmanis and crew find more creative and nuanced ways to explore the contrast between their chilly synth-pop and her huge, passionate voice on Olympia. Though the album's much fuller, smoother sound might be the first things listeners notice, Stelmanis' more personal lyrics are a close second; both shine on the single "Home," where she cries "you know that it hurts me when you don't come home at night" over pianos that switch from flowing balladry to rhythmic pop stabs. It's as though having a bigger crew around her allowed Stelmanis to dig deeper into her feelings than she did on Feel It Break. While she'd sound compelling singing almost anything, the tremulousness of her voice, coupled with Olympia's direct pleas and accusations, give Austra a new level of emotional impact. Stelmanis revealed that she listened to early Cat Power while writing these songs, and there's a similar heart-on-sleeve quality to her singing and words; it doesn't get much more naked than song titles like "You Changed My Life" and "Hurt Me Now," and her voice stretches up heartrendingly on "What We Done?" and "Reconcile." As Stelmanis gets more vulnerable and approachable, the rest of Austra becomes more refined and elaborate on Olympia. It's arguably a more sonically beautiful album than the the band's debut, with more organic elements mixed into their dramatic electro-pop, either blending like the marimbas on "Fire" or creating bold juxtapositions like the strings and dubstep-like bass on "Forgive Me." There aren't as many obvious singles like "The Beat and the Pulse" and "Lose It" here, though standouts like "Painful Like" and "Annie (Oh Muse, You)" are among the most danceable tracks here. Instead, Austra opts for a more balanced and poised version of the sound they set forth on Feel It Break; even though that album's rough edges and raw nerves were a large part of what made it so potent, Olympia feels like the beginning of a more sustainable, and versatile, direction for the band.

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