Under the flag of Paperbag Records Austra have succeeding in creating another hauntingly beautiful album with second album, Olympia. With a backdrop of electrical dance notes, layered against multiple vocals from Opera trained Stelmanis, Austra has the listener dreaming of Lykke Li and Dimbleby and Capper, yet dancing like Florence Welch. Each song within Olympia fits seamlessly together, lifting a beat up to only suddenly drop it moments later. The album, like Austra themselves defies all definition, with lyrics “you’ll never know me, I’ll never know you” holding true meaning here. ‘Annie (Oh Muse, You)’ begins with a beat that has clear references to 80s hip hop and yet the deeply defined keyboard notes lead into drawn out vocals that hit your chest like a tonne of bricks. In contrast to this, next song, ‘You Changed My Life’ almost immediately mirrors Annie in opposites, drawing its entrance from purely mournful vocals which then lead into a beat that despite its relatively fast dance tempo is downtrodden in its emotion. There is no overlay of mediums in this song, giving it a life apart from Olympia as a whole, which is charmingly complicated in its creation.
After listening to the full album, it is clear that single ‘Painful Like’, is the song that will reverberate around your head, it is also the song that you’ll show to friends in order to illustrate the true talent that Austra possess. The tune is upbeat and the words easily discernible but it is not only the lyrics of the song, which in their fluidity showcase Austra’s ability to transcend genres but the incredible meaning behind them that give the song such importance. Like many songs within the genre, ‘Painful Like’ is reflective of Olympia as a whole, forcing Austra’s political agenda to the surface. It draws the main themes of the album to a rippling conclusion in a beautifully effortless way; heartbreak is fractured against Austra’s clear mockery of bigotry and the pain that draws them both together is thrust upon the listener in heart-wrenching lyrics such as “Bruised skin on top of mine, give me the creeps of painful like, I held you in my underwear, give me the creeps of painful like.” These themes radiate throughout the entire album with opening song, ‘What We Done’, holding captive lyrics that suggest depression; “She saw the future, It was dark,” within the most upbeat cage of the albums entirety.
Similarly, potentially the harshest song of the album, ‘I Don’t Care (I’m a man)’, directly references both misogyny and domestic violence in its lyrics, “The softer brutalizing… but I don’t care I’m a man” and yet ironically it is this piece that actually seems to lack some of Stelmanis’ more emotional vocal folds and it is this that gives the song such depth, suggesting such a familiarity with pain that the persona has become passive to it. The songs placement within the middle of the album, almost aggressively cuts into the ease of listening and gives the tune a more disturbing stance than if it were to be played alone.
The album ends on a high note with ‘Hurt Me Now’, whose own title suggests the tune may be less than upbeat but singer Katie Stelmanis manages to reflect the ups and downs of a rocky relationship purely with the wave of her vocal chords, leaving the beat to stand alone, with a higher tempo and softly beating chimes. The ultimate song of Olympia has a churchlike feel and you sense Austra once again questioning a patriarchal society in lyrics, ‘Had I been a king, how would I have gone?’
Olympia runs along a starkly different track to debut album Feel it Break, it appears to be more expansive in its use of both instruments and production and yet rather than losing their tone and meaning as often overproduced albums do, Austra have gotten better with age, Olympia is more haunting and resonant than ever. With the political overtones drawing upon the harsh realities of a broken community, Austra have created an album that holds the listener both in a trusting embrace whilst similarly shining the light of accusation upon us all.
Words: Sophie Stones
Olympia is out now on Domino Records.