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Album Review: Austra - Olympia

8 June 2013 | 6:17 pm | Cate Summers

A dance record with heartbreakingly beautiful tracks.

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It's been just over two years since Canadian electro-pop group Austra released their popular debut Feel It Break, and now, having developed into a fully-fledged sextet, the band's back with a follow-up.

Olympia possesses all the great musical qualities that made Feel It Break such a success. Lead singer Katie Stelmanis has described the album as “fundamentally a dance record”, and by all accounts it is. Opener What We Done, a track that begins with a low, pulsating beat and an innocent flute melody, erupts halfway into a penetrating sequence of layered synths and percussions. Similarly, the more up-tempo Annie sounds like it has been lifted from the 1980s and reworked into a grimier track suited to some dingy, European nightclub.

What is possibly more exciting about Olympia is that all of these fun tunes have been injected with such honest sentiments. The record's about pain of love, and this concept is explored with such intensity that you almost feel as if you're privy to something you shouldn't be. The track Home is deeply confessional in its style, and as Stelmanis sings “You know it hurts me when you don't come home at night/My body can't rest unless you're sleeping by my side”, the sense of vulnerability is overwhelming. Stelmanis originally studied as a classical opera singer, and the strength and emotion within her voice gives her lyrics extra weight. The gentler, piano-driven You Changed My Life trusts heavily on Stelmanis' crystalline vocals and the result is a heartbreakingly beautiful track.

Olympia pushes the envelope both musically and thematically. A refreshing, stimulating album, it's probably one of the strongest releases of 2013.

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