Like a child of Nine Inch Nail’s Pretty Hate Machine and Siouxsie and The Banshee’s Superstition, Austra’s debut album Feel It Break pushes beyond late 80’s/early 90’s goth-wave revisionism into a shadowy synth-led dance of the seven veils, all the while providing a timely career reinvention for 26 year old vocalist/songwriter Katie Stelmanis.
With a strong dancefloor focus, their debut single “Beat And The Pulse” resembled the sometime sinister gloom of The Knife, with Stelmanis’ operatic ebb and flow wail adding an eerie edge. It proved to be a solid statement of intent as to what Canadian-born, classically-trained Stelmanis had in mind for Austra.
Following in the footsteps of the not-too-dissimilar blonde goth-stress Zola Jesus, Stelmanis manages to cut her own cloth from a more accessible angle than ZJ’s avant-goth austerity, but the strength and allure of Austra lies more in its music than the person merely mouthing the words. Having personally spent a good decade in dingy goth clubs, getting acquainted with both the music and its people, Austra sound like a welcome return to that bewitching and foreboding world in which Feel It Break perfectly captures the mood.
With the album divided between the more rhythmically engaging tracks like the Depeche Mode murmurs of “Darken Her Horse” and “Spellwork”, and the glistening Kate Bush-like gallop of “Lose It”, Feel It Break‘s ability to define itself fades as the album progresses without much divergence from its set path. The jilted two-step waltz of “Shoot The Water” shares a similar stride with that of Siouxsie & The Banshee’s “Swimming Horses”, and I swear there’s a little oriental new wave flourish a-la Japan in “Hate Crime”, but such influences, be they real or imagined fail to truly colour the songs, or even give the impression that they’ve had enough time to gestate and grow.
The true test of all music is to appreciate it on an aesthetic level and for it to resonate. Having not listened to this kind of music in years, decades even, I find myself falling back into that state of mind with surprising ease. Austra have pulled off a neat trick with Feel It Break, but whether it’s conspicuous enough to rally attention or has the longevity to endure repeated listens is uncertain. There is something undeniably graceful and icily subversive on display here, and given time, Austra may actually rise to the occasion.
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