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Austra’s ‘Olympia’ is defiantly weird

Album review: Austra’s ‘Olympia’

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Austra – Olympia
Paper Bag Records
★★★★ (out of 5 stars)

With Olympia, Canadian band Austra seems poised for a breakout. On its own, the band has steadily amassed more and more critical acclaim and attention, and the universe of swoony, artsy, darkwave-inspired synth-pop it resides in has done the same. So does Olympia find Austra polishing off the more difficult edges of its music in an attempt to make it more broadly palatable? Are there more straightforward melodies than on the debut? Fewer flights of ostentatious vocal fantasy from vocalist Katie Stelmanis? No, no and, thank God, no. In fact, even the album’s most blatant shift is in its cover art – moving from the dark intensity of Feel It Break toward an explicit ’80s pasteling (and cover-fronting of Stelmanis) on Olympia. Beyond that – despite the catchy rhythmic treatments of cuts like “Forgive Me” and “We Become” – Olympia is another defiantly weird and artful release, if one with a bigger and more front-facing approach. Stelmanis’ voice is a very specific and defining instrument, and the music Austra creates around it (though rooted in ’80s synth-pop) continues to be equally unique and uncompromising.

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