Olympia is the second album from critically acclaimed Canadian baroque electro band AUSTRA. The musical project of Katie Stelmanis impressed fans in 2010 with Feel It Break, which featured Katie’s icy soprano over stylized synth-pop. AUSTRA has returned with a new, more collaborative effort, read all about Katie’s struggle to give up control in NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION‘s recent interview. Moving beyond the solo-conceived and realized debut album Feel it Break, the themes of Olympia indicate an artist coming into her own, dealing with a modicum of fame, an amount of challenging band dynamics and the drawbacks of life on tour. Fans have gotten previews of the album with the pre-releases of songs Painful Like and Home (the last being a standout track on the album).
Whereas Feel It Break has been described as one song divided into eleven tracks, Olympia is more varied. It is twelve distinct songs, many with intros and outros that are completely different. The opening track What We Done? starts almost like a dirge, with stripped down keys and wavering synth, belying Katie’s punk and industrial influences. In the last minute and half, the song morphs and brings retro dance track. The inimitable quality of Katie’s voice overlays a range of contradictory instrumentals, ranging from classically symphonic (horns, strings) to modern day (synths, drum machines.) In our interview, Katie described her songwriting process, and how she would mumble out words as composes demos and later makes sense of them. Katie and AUSTRA prefer to leave things open ended and let the audience draw their own conclusions.
Olympia will keep fans entertained for awhile, the lyrics are obtuse and open to multiple interpretations. Home, which laments “You know that it hurts me when/you don’t come home at night” begins with pounding, accusatory piano chords and expands into symphony of beseechment. I Don’t Care, I’m a Man creeps up on you with gentle opening tones and a time signature that would suit the sound of approaching footsteps. Lasting a little over a minute, this song is more complex than the title suggests. Is that a threat or a lament? We Become has elements of eighties synth-pop and could be a single, with a mildly positive tone “It could be our love/it could be better.” The LP ends with Hurt Me Now, which has lyrics that are oddly empowered: it’s not a request as much as a statement. This is your soundtrack to that maybe-this-was-a-bad idea climb up a mountain in a blizzard: you aren’t exactly sure how it ends, but each curve holds something new and fascinating. Be sure to bring extra oxygen.