Feel It Break

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Austra's Katie Stelmanis fits right in with the resurgence of dark electronic songstresses in the late 2000s/early 2010s, sharing the aloof beauty of Glasser, Esben and the Witch, Fever Ray, and Zola Jesus. Unlike some of the band’s peers, however, there’s a humanity to Stelmanis' vocals that, even when distorted, keeps Feel It Break's songs from feeling too remote. Stelmanis is an operatically trained vocalist, though that background reveals itself more in the nuances of her singing than in any showy displays of technique. Her voice is huge when it needs to be, as on “The Choke,” where she wails “lover, don’t do anything!” into the sparkling darkness, and it’s delicate on “Lose It,” where her vibrato blends into the shimmering electronics around her like ripples on a pond. Songs such as the frosty “Darken Her Horse” and the aptly named electro alchemy of “Spellwork” resemble ice castles in their massive yet fragile sounds, but Feel It Break shines brightest when there’s momentum behind its delicacy. The outstanding single “Beat and the Pulse” does exactly what its title suggests, pitting Stelmanis' keening vocals against hard-edged rhythms that speak to her fondness for industrial music, while “Shoot the Water” takes an even sharper turn toward the ominous with lyrics like “I want your blood/I want it in my hand” to match its driving rhythms. At times, Stelmanis' lyrics veer from genuinely disturbing to borderline goth cliché, but when the music is as beautiful as “The Beast” -- which sounds like it was written and performed in some cloistered, shadowy conservatory -- it’s more than forgivable. On this consistently hypnotic debut, Austra carve out a place of their own among their contemporaries.

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