On her second album, Olympia, Austra leader Katie Stelmanis takes her listener to a variety of places. Up, down, high or low, the one thing they all have in common is that they’re deeply personal. Instead of the brooding, goth-inspired electro that dominated 2011’s Feel It Break, she’s opted for a lush, expansive, diverse approach that feels somehow ready for both the dance floor and a comforting evening at home, simultaneously. The main difference lies in the fact that this time around, Stelmanis isn’t alone; while Olympia maintains an intimate feel throughout, Austra has now made the transition from bedroom project to full six-piece band, changes which have produced some thoroughly impressive results.
As always, Katie Stelmanis’ singing is shrill, delicate, and stunning on Olympia; there really isn’t another voice like hers that’s quite comparable. “Home” is a domestic drama played out in gorgeous slow motion, toying with relatable emotions that range from romance to utter heartbreak. “You know that it hurts me when you don’t come home at night/My body can’t rest unless you’re sleeping by my side,” Stelmanis sings over a shaky, softly simmering beat. Tribal drumming, breathy chants, and an eclectic mix of flutes, strings, and who knows what else later add to the beautiful, muddled confusion. “We Become” continues in this funky, vaguely ‘80s vein, as tinny sounds and twinkling synths transform into a bizarrely groovy tornado of unexpected dance glory.
On its thirteen tracks, Olympia doesn’t stay committed to one sound; from chilling thrills and sparse minimalism to slinky house inspiration, Austra manage to cover it all (spectacularly, no less). Of course, Stelmanis keeps us connected the whole way through, integrating countless styles into one bountiful, yet undoubtedly cohesive, form. “Forgive Me” is a straight-up synth pop number, while “Painful Like” eventually erupts into an soaring disco chorus. Obviously, their recent expansion– both in lineup and sound– has done Austra good; Olympia is an album that travels far and wide without ever getting lost. It’s a trip, most definitely, but with grooves like these, who would ever want to stay seated?
4 / 5 bars