Review: Austra's Album, "Future Politics"

Updated on January 30, 2017
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The Artful and Unique "Future Politics"

Made up of Katie Stelmanis, musician/producer Maya Postepski, bassist Dorian Wolf and keyboardist Ryan Wonsiak, Canadian electronic group Austra release their third studio album, 'Future Politics'. Austra are artful and unique on ‘Future Politics’. The best moments on the record sound irrefutably fresh and genuinely original, however the songs aren’t undeniable.

‘Future Politics’ probably won’t be the album that brings the Canadian electro outfit the wider recognition they deserve. Only a couple of tracks flicker with the appeal to convert mass audiences and outdo the group’s stateside competition. While the new LP doesn’t have the appeal of 2013 predecessor ‘Olympia’, ‘Future Politics’ is cohesive. Austra use the project to further their own assured take on the synth-pop and dark wave genres.

Mixed, mastered, produced and engineered solely by women, ‘Future Politics’ is far removed from today’s chart-inclined electro releases, and Austra seem to delight in that. Even so, despite the record’s colour, ‘Future Politics’ never quite disentangles itself from a regimented, disciplined energy.

Post-Capitalist, Utopian Themes

It might take a few spins of the album for casual listeners to appreciate the band’s aesthetic and post-capitalist, utopian themes. Even then, ‘Future Politics’ may feel somewhat out of reach for some of them. Still, the distinctive performances of Austra’s founder, lead vocalist and musician Katie Stelmanis are some of the record’s main attractions.

Thankfully, the 31-year-old’s striking vocal isn’t watered down on ‘Future Politics’. It’s actually enhanced, and it’s the reason many of the cuts shine. On cuts ‘Utopia’ and ‘I’m A Monster’, Austra seem committed to presenting Stelmanis’s gifts in new and challenging ways. Stelmanis soars on the LP’s biggest crossover moment, lead single ‘Utopia’. The Canadian then takes a dramatic turn on the enigmatic, tempered highlight ’I’m A Monster’.

Photo: Katie Stelmanis / Credit: Carlos Osorio / Toronto Star
Photo: Katie Stelmanis / Credit: Carlos Osorio / Toronto Star
Austra (Left to Right): Katie Stelmanis, Maya Postepski, Dorian Wolf and Ryan Wonsiak.
Austra (Left to Right): Katie Stelmanis, Maya Postepski, Dorian Wolf and Ryan Wonsiak. | Source

Lonely On the Dancefloor

‘I Love You More Than You Love Yourself’ operates within an ‘lonely-on-the-dancefloor’ vibe. It's easy to get swept up in. There’s a real romance and sense of longing surrounding the tune, and Stelmanis has no problem channelling it. Sometimes though, the tune can worryingly resemble a simplified type of Nineties europop.

Title track ‘Future Politics’ wades headfirst into the world’s unsettled political landscape with pounding beats and defiant lyrics like, “the system won’t help you when your money runs out…I’m looking for something to rise up above.” The ways in which the track grows and intensifies towards its climax is appealing. Centred around a magnetic, fluctuating loop, ‘Angel In Your Eye’ is stylish, and a little sultry. Its sleepy, singalong melodies stand out.

Keeping Listeners Guessing

The comparatively immediate ‘Freepower’ showcases a range of danceable, sometimes ridiculously irresistible ideas. It's sprinkled with in-production tricks that keep the listener guessing and offset the tune’s approachable beatwork.

On a different note, it’s interesting how Stelmanis never seems tied down to ‘Freepower’. Sometimes the singer sounds like she’s performing independently from the track’s instrumental. Compared to the tunes that follow, ‘Gaia’ has more of a forward charge. In contrast to its metaphysical wordplay, the song's instrumental and outstretched harmonies are dynamically agitated.

Cutting Through Calculated Electro

‘Beyond A Mortal’ never stops sounding machine-operated, however much warmth and sensuality is channeled on the cut. Stelmanis’s ghostly vocals slice cleanly through the tune’s understated, sophisticated and calculated electro. Encased in an ethereal aura, ‘Beyond A Mortal’ shows off the layers of texture in Stelmanis’s vocie. After the song’s midway mark, the cut pauses briefly before continuing its electro shuffle.

The dark, gradual stomp of ’43’ is arresting. Alternative and otherworldly, the tune is murky in ways that are not upfront. As stray gasps and somber humming circulate within the song’s backdrop, an untouched Stelmanis sits prettily over the track’s moody instrumental. '43’ is odd and spacey, thankfully though the tune doesn’t overstep itself, everything is done in stride.

At just over a minute long, ‘Deep Thought’ is a brief interlude of plucked, harp-type sounds. Apart from providing listeners with a fleeting moment of meditation, its inclusion is a bit random. Any deeper meaning behind the short offering not made immediately clear. That said, ‘Deep Thought’ ultimately ends up contributing to the record’s free spirit and all-round precision.

Verdict: ***** 5.5/10


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