Album review: Austra – Future Politics

John Preston

South London based music obsessive with strong opinions about most things. Doubts Madonna has another good record in her but would love more than anything to be proved wrong.
John Preston

Austra open Future Politics in risk-taking fashion with a track that is neither the best or immediately impactful on the Canadian electronic group’s thoughtful but insular third album. ‘Doctor what’s the cure for apathy?’ pleads lead singer and group coordinator Katie Stelmanis on ‘We Were Alive’, a dappled but coolly whirring electronic track that is not overtly melodic in any obvious sense with Stelmanis’ operatic and otherworldly vocals being both bare and piercing.

Other artists would have positioned this style of track nearer the end of their record maybe, not as the first seductive few moments meant to usher in a new era. It’s an increasingly grand piece of music: strings eventually swell and sentiments become more desperate, but which somehow manages, intriguingly, to remove itself from what can be the cliché of what’s often referred to as ‘cinematic music’. Resisting the obvious has its benefits on Future Politics, an album which tentatively begins to step out from behind its agenda.

We have been here before with themes of a dystopia fuelled by capitalist regimes and a loss of human connection, but released on the date of Donald Trump’s inauguration and a further confirmation that Brexit will indeed be hard in more ways than one, the arrival of Future Politics could not have been more timely. Much like Trump and May, Stelmanis gives no details as to what this forthcoming rule will look like, only that a revised update is required urgently and her long-term vision is likely to differ significantly from the two world leaders.

The surging title track is one of a handful of songs that establish a satisfyingly strong pop contingent nestled amongst the more inward-looking (and sounding) tracks like album closer ’43’ and the short-circuiting hypnosis of ‘Beyond A Mortal’. Highlight ‘I Love You More Than You Love Yourself’ is radiant electro-pop, achingly romantic and with a disorientating middle-eight which threatens to submerge the song into slate grey before it blooms back to life. Doing away with the more organic and house-influenced style of their brilliant 2013 album Olympia, Austra keep the sonic template cool and precise throughout with only Stelmanis’ almost superhuman falsetto puncturing the thaw.

In between the eerie, vintage Moroder burble of ‘Angel In Your Eye’ and the manic jitter of ‘Freepower’ is a 3-minute song which modestly and beautifully sets out Stelmanis’ aims. ‘Gaia’ has mid tempo, fluttering synths and layered, lush harmonies which warn ‘the physical world is the only world’ to a Goddess who may sell nature out to the highest bidder. Austra then have made their political album cerebral but low-key and have carefully contained it within a tight and often plaintive musical soundscape, but this is not a criticism. Future Politics makes its point, if you chose to listen out for it, but overwhelmingly it’s the union of machines and Stelmanis’ soulfulness which make the strongest case for a brave new world.

 

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