If you’re still feeling drained and deadened by the traumas of 2016, perhaps it’s time for a musical tonic. Like cold, clean water, Austra’s ‘Future Politics’ washes clear the mental muck, leaving you feeling alive again.
Latvian-Canadian producer Katie Stelmanis’s aim on her electropop outfit’s third album is, she’s said, “a commitment to replace the approaching dystopia”. Its beats are suitably bracing; where Austra’s 2011 debut ‘Feel It Break’ was minimal and cold wave-y, and 2013’s ‘Olympia’ embraced a warmer, housier feel, ‘Future Politics’ contains their most purposeful music yet, sci-fi synths bolstered by futuristic dreams, gearing you up for the hard work of rebuilding your faith in humanity. “Waking up got somewhere to go / I’m making sweat fall”, ‘We Were Alive’ begins, Stelmanis’s rich voice reaching out over dawn-soft synths, swelling strings and a crisp snare beat.
But the promise of ‘Future Politics’ is more than just today’s hard work; on the glorious synthpop of ‘Utopia’, glistening like a factory crafting new tomorrows, it imagines a radical future beyond labour, tired structures and old assumptions: “I can picture a place where everybody sees it too / It might be fiction but I see it ahead”. Hope is hard, though, and ‘I’m A Monster’ faces the stultifying weight of despair, Stelmanis sorrowing,
“I don’t feel nothing any more” over darkly throbbing synths. The title track’s fat, womping space disco hammers out a way forward: “I don’t want to hear that it’s all my fault / I’m looking for something to rise up above”.
The deep chillout of ‘Beyond A Mortal’ and the title of harp-laced instrumental ‘Deep Thought’ (the name of the computer built to answer the Ultimate Question in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy), meanwhile, seem to point beyond our selves as we understand them, to a transhumanity in which technology might lift us beyond our weaknesses. Such visions are a welcome gift in a new year when resolution comes harder than ever.