A Story of Synth and Pop

It’s often not easy for a band’s second album to measure up to the expectations set by their first. Austra, however, has shown a certain consistency of awesomeness, first in 2011 with Feel It Break and now again in 2013 with Olympia. With an electronic, pulsating, danceable and distinctly whimsical style, they have proven with Olympia that we need not fear – Austra are capable of continuing to deliver the goods.

In many of the songs, there is a feeling that this is storytelling of a sort, and indeed, the backup singers often sound and feel like supporting characters. When listening to this album, one gets the feeling they in fact are listening to a playful all-girl wood-nymph band.

One of this band’s best qualities is their ability to create songs that are immediately catchy without growing tiresome right away, because theirs is a catchiness embedded in a nest of well-constructed and sweeping layers of sound.

Opening with “What We Done”, first we have a long introduction of clicking noises, followed with the beautiful layering of sounds that has become a signature of Austra’s style. After a lengthy, fairly subdued section (at least by Austra standards), it evolves into synth-pop, the whole song setting the tone for the rest of the album. This first song closes out with a slowing, trumpet-like noise. Though it’s certainly not the most powerful  song, “What We Done” holds up as a respectable kick-off track for the album.

“Sleep” has a worldly, meaningful sound, like it belongs in a movie soundtrack. It’s definitely got danceable pep, but you also feel like you’re in a forest having a mystical adventure. It’s got beat, but it’s also got wind chimes.

“Home” starts out like it’s going to be a heartfelt emotional one, but suddenly, it transmogrifies into a poppy dance song, only to shift back into powerful, emotional pop, and then, quite suddenly, some ethnic flavour is thrown in! First with some bongo drums giving it an African feel, then a lovely Middle Eastern-sounding flute interlude. What a rich mix.

Although the songs flow beautifully, an Austra song can sometimes have the tendency to seem to be leading, vocally, in one direction, only to turn the corner at the last second, as occurs at times in “Home”.  Just to keep us on our toes, perhaps.

“Fire” has beautiful vocals, xylophone, a driving beat, altogether creating layers of sound that all fit together like a winning game of Tetris.

Probably the darkest song on the album, both in sound and message, “I don’t care / I’m a man”  ponders upon the dark side of masculinity. This song puts the singer in the role of a negative image of a man, or the role a man feels he has to fill “the capable, powerful man”. At one minute and twelve seconds, it is also (ironically?) the shortest song on the album.

“Reconcile” has a pretty, hopeful keyboard riff to start off with, then a deeper beat, then clapping noises, then another layer, then another, all culminating in a perfect medley, finally ending with a soft yet dramatic fade. It’s a confident, emotional statement of a song.

Austra winningly pulls off their energetic experimental sound, and are not afraid to be dramatic. Unapologetically whimsical, with catchy pulsing beats, this album is full of the emotion and fun we’ve come to expect and love of Austra.