It seems that we live in the post Fever Ray world, and i am enjoying it. By this i mean that these days i seem to i hear a lot of different bands who have quirky female vocalists singing over dark, intense electronic music. There are dozens of these bands now, and Austra is one that i have been enjoying quite a lot.
Austra is a trio from Toronto featuring Katie Stelmanis on vocals and keyboards, Maya Postepski on drums, and bassist Dorian Wolf. Their sound is dark and rhythm heavy, kind of like the gothy synthpop that Ladytron make. Stelmanis however, has a rich expressive voice and she sings in a very broad range, often letting a natural tremolo saturate what she is singing. This is the exact opposite of Ladytron, where their whole shtick is that the two females sing like robots. I find that what Austra are doing improves upon the general model.
The album starts with a gothy intro of meandering keys and warbling voice in Darken Her Horse. After about two minutes, a hard drum machine beat comes in, and this song just lurches forward. As the song progresses, it seems more and more Fever Ray-ish, if Fever Ray had a fondness for Men Without Hats and Flock of Seagulls!
On Lose It Stelmanis cuts loose, singing operatically. There is an odd percussion noise here as well, a faint tinkling sound, like bells in the distance. The Future has a happy little piano riff and a nice head bopping drum beat. In the middle, the keys glow in a way that reminds me of Dominant Legs, a sort of bright 1980s optimistic sound.
Austra get their goth all the way on during Beat And The Pulse, which reminds me of the early work of Clan of Xymox. The song starts with a really nice synth bass warbling, before a deep 80s dance beat comes in. Stelmanis sings in a kind of understated way here, letting the beat drive the song along. Spellwork is sort of a similar song, as is the The Choke, where the voice is slightly more prominent.
Hate Crime takes it down a notch, the keyboards more chiming, less goth. However, Stelmanis cuts loose here, her voice ranging all over the place and vibrating naturally. She really knows how to use that effect. The Villain takes us back the full gothishness, Postepski really pounding away.
On Shoot The Water Stelmanis gives her best keyboard performance, a jaunty syncopated riff that really makes the song seem almost happy, unlike the moodiness that dominates much of the record.
With The Noise Austra remind me the most of Fever Ray. There is one layer of cascading keyboards, another layer thunking slowly, and the voice in layers. This is loud, dark, and good.
Finally, the end the record with something a little different on The Beast. Instead of keyboards, this is a piano tune, just Stelmanis playing and singing along. She plays a nice melody that combines nicely with her tremoloed voice.
Overall, this is good stuff. Very contemporary, but well done and enjoyable.