Given recent events on the world stage, it’s tempting to see the writing and release date of Austra’s third LP as almost spookily prescient. This would belie both the time it’s taken chief composer and frontwoman Katie Stelmanis to marinade her musical ideas, and the slow build of socio-political change that’s led us to our current predicament. Released to the world on Inauguration Day, the eagerly anticipated follow up to 2013’s sophomore album Olympia is, nonetheless, heavily influenced by Stelmanis’ sense of a ‘collective sadness’ permeating her generation, as well as more hopeful theories of post-capitalism and even sci-fi visions of the future.
All this rumination has inevitably made its way into the music of this Toronto based, arty electronica outfit. Whilst certainly not a total sonic departure, there is a more streamlined, economical approach here that creates a subtly meditative atmosphere, even on the songs with higher bpm. What remains constant is Stelmanis’ unmistakeable, classically trained voice and the emotion it carries, albeit juxtaposing less sharply with her instrumental arrangements, which on earlier recordings were bolstered by the rock solid scaffold of Maya Postepski’s metronome-like drumming. Another thread joining this to previous work is Stelmanis’ slightly unsettling, off-kilter experimentalism that brings to mind other projects by singular creatives, such as The Knife or Grimes. Early in Austra’s career Stelmanis made no secret of her fluid approach to lyric writing, with words often chosen as much for their sound as their meaning; this has lent her songs an air of impenetrability at times. Perhaps it’s because the vocals on Future Politics aren’t competing with such dense layers as those that gothically draped parts of Feel It Break and Olympia, or because this album was more consciously informed by written works, but either way its lyrical content seems to jump out at the listener more. This includes an early contender for lyric of the year, on the gorgeous Utopia: ‘Cut me a slice of the apple that I grew/ My work is valid, I can’t prove it, but I know’.
In a world increasingly resembling the opening act of a dystopian Sci-Fi film this album perhaps offers an alternative future, or perhaps it’s just a really good synth-pop album, either way the ambition is to be admired!