Album Review: Austra – ‘Feel it Break’

Katie Stelmanis conjures a touch of devilry

Pop’s a shadowy coven nowadays, and Katie Stelmanis, the mastermind behind Toronto three-piece [a]Austra[/a], just made those dark wings even more crowded. ‘Feel It Break’, their debut for Domino (Katie released an album under her own name in 2009) will ruffle established feathers. It runs rings around Florence’s hokey waft; its harshness is in sharp contrast to [a]Bat For Lashes[/a]’ wide-eyed ethereality. Instead, Katie and bandmates Maya Postepski and Dorian Wolf delight in glistening, arpeggiated coldwave synths that evoke [a]Depeche Mode[/a], even [a]Nine Inch Nails[/a], glimmering like a sashayed sequined cape.

She’s got dramatic lyrical stock to match. Made more macabre by her stern operatics, she castigates traitors (‘Darken Her Horse’) and on ‘Lose It’ her trill could shatter stained glass, flitting from Munchian disconnection (“my face screams without any motion”) to confrontationally intimate (“I came so hard in your mouth”). ‘Spellwork’ casts her as a scavenger, clawing after “bones or anything grown” and that insatiable ambrosia, desire. This dangerous desperation holds court on the searing, near-perfect ‘Beat And The Pulse’, in which devilishly bold synths recall a blunted Knife, Katie’s sexy gasps contrasting with lead vocal stridence.

The tracklisting, however, proves that these treats lie in the record’s first half, the second part not quite hitting such ecstatic peaks. Drum breakdowns drift too on ‘The Villain’’s Gauntlet-ish splutter, and although Katie’s piano skills are impressive, final song ‘The Beast’ is too stripped back and literal, erring a teensy bit on [a]Evanescence[/a] balladry. Still, the progression between Katie’s occasionally mawkish solo album and [a]Austra[/a]’s debut is remarkable. The odd misfire aside, ‘Feel It Break’ is self-assured and utterly consuming. At this rate, she’ll be leading the pack soon.

Laura Snapes

Order a copy of Austra’s ‘Feel It Break’ from Amazon