Austra gets you to feel, not break


Feel It Break


Release Date: May 17, 11

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When was the last time you listened to a song in a major key, or requested it? Now that many bands pull the whole “we do what we want” kind of style, it should make no difference that Austra lead singer Katie Stelmanis believes she cannot and does not write in the mainstream sounds. Which isn’t surprising given the Toronto trio’s latest album, Feel It Break. What breaks exactly, I’m still not quite sure, but it’s definitely a testament of talent on the opera-trained Stelmanis’ part, alongside bandmates Maya Postepski and Dorian Wolf, as they create mindless tunes to merely supplement the vocal leads.

The first track takes you in without much warning, as if you’ve been listening for quite awhile already – and when “Darken Her Horse” is over it snaps you out of the 05:21-long moment and back into reality. Most likely you’ll play it again or continue eagerly to the next song. It’s not the kind of first track that turns you off or gets you bored. Between clear strong vocals and a morose and steady electronic beat, it’s on the side of epic in the vein of a contemporary pop Florence Welch type of potential.

Previously-released as a single, “Lose It” reaffirms the pop attraction. Stelmanis’ deep voice swells and reverberates, making it clear why the music seems to always be some minimalistic electronic sound, not even much of an assortment of manually-played instruments. It’s all about her. And that’s not a problem.

On “Beat and the Pulse,” there’s an unusually long waiting time for vocals. At 01:12 comes in the pitch of an electric organ, over the synth blips and distant sounds of what seems like some kind of shaker. At 01:31 she finally makes her entrance onto the track, breathing a lofty sound as a beat before singing in her deep and low usual way. But when she takes a note to a higher pitch, even just for a syllable, it brings the track from calm noise to slow song.

More reminiscent of pop, “Shoot The Water” is still an understated song. Stelmanis’ use of the word “you” makes me feel a little uncomfortable – as if after all this time, she’s now accusing me of something in the way she calls for silence and sings of shame. But the abrupt ending to the repetitive lines makes it feel more like a short interlude than anything, and I find myself immediately ushered into the next song now that I know the end is near.

To open the last track, a piano comes in alone, feeling not at all out of place, but obviously being so given the fact that the rest of the album is about entirely electronic. Right before the minute mark on “The Beast,” Stelmanis comes in with what may be the most narrative-heavy lyrics on Feel It Break. But it doesn’t even matter that it’s the last song and now is when this sort of story and use of an instrument come together under the reign of her vocals. With all the pomp of her own sound, all I can hope for is a good stage presence live to personify everything.