Release Date: May 17, 2011
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Club/Dance
Upon first listen, Austra’s debut album Feel It Break comes off like a cross between The Knife and a gothier version of Florence and The Machine. But while Austra’s dark and sexy synth may be taking pages from previously-written books, frontwoman Katie Stelmanis’ voice is distinctively her own—and it’s definitely the main attraction. A classically trained musician, Stelmanis also took years of opera lessons and her time with the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus afforded her opportunities to perform with Toronto’s prestigious Canadian Opera Company.
Katie Stelmanis, the muscle behind Austra, appears to be one of those people that you were probably jealous of in elementary school. Ushering in her primitive musical talents by the age of 10, she joined the Canadian Children’s Opera Choir, moved onto mastering the piano and viola, started working MIDI by 18, and basically perfected the debut album, Feel It Break, before Domino even picked Austra up. Okay, we get it.
AUSTRA play tonight (Thursday, May 19) at Lee's Palace. See listing. Rating: NNNN When Katie Stelmanis's first single as Austra leaked last summer, many saw Beat And The Pulse as a huge leap forward for the quirky opera-trained singer/songwriter. All of a sudden the power of her eerie voice was matched by equally arresting production and a new focus on rhythm that we hoped was a sign of what to expect from the full album.
Austra's Katie Stelmanis fits right in with the resurgence of dark electronic songstresses in the late 2000s/early 2010s, sharing the aloof beauty of Glasser, Esben and the Witch, Fever Ray, and Zola Jesus. Unlike some of the band’s peers, however, there’s a humanity to Stelmanis' vocals that, even when distorted, keeps Feel It Break's songs from feeling too remote. Stelmanis is an operatically trained vocalist, though that background reveals itself more in the nuances of her singing than in any showy displays of technique.
It’s been a strange path that Toronto-based singer Katie Stelmanis has taken to Austra. It’s almost as though she was engaging in a very public search for a musical identity. We’ve had solo releases, work with the riot grrrl-tinged Galaxy, record deals with Loog and Vice, and an appearance on Fucked Up’s The Chemistry of Common Life. Anyone who got comfortable with her punk-oriented wailing will have to realign their expectations when sitting down with her debut album for Domino, Feel It Break.
Katie Stelmanis is an unlikely ingenue. The Toronto-based singer joined the Canadian Children’s Opera at the age of 10 and planned to go to college to pursue a career in classical music. But she had a sudden change of heart after she saw a punk show and started listening to Nine Inch Nails, and Stelmanis’s debut under the moniker Austra is rooted in her desire, as she puts it in the press notes, “to make classical music with really fucked up, distorted crazy shit on there.” It’s not exactly classical, but Stelmanis shares with Trent Reznor a desire to make “goth” music that’s both lyrically and sonically dense.
Canadian trio Austra have been lumped in with the synth-gothisms of Zola Jesus and Fever Ray, but there's a cleanliness and sharpness about them that belies those associations. Katie Stelmanis sings with a cut-glass voice, and the precision of the electronic music behind her – always carefully restrained, never overwhelming – might be chilly, but it's rarely foreboding. Lose It's hook combines a wordless chirrupp with a trebly synth line that sounds like tumbling icicles, but it is recognisably pop.
Cascading synths. Ass-shaking drum beats. Pained vocals. Songs with titles like “Hate Crime.” A healthy understanding of the works of Depeche Mode. A woman trained in opera. Songs fit for black nylon outfits and nights in seedy clubs. These are the building blocks of many new-new-new-wave ….
On her own and under her own name, Katie Stelmanis used to record synthetic art-pop. This was tense and jarring music, music that jumped around and demanded attention. Austra, Stelmanis' new band, makes just as much use of her stretched-out yip and her theatrical instincts, but the music is a lot warmer and more comfortable. Austra play a warm, hazy sort of electro-goth.
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. [b]‘Feel It Break’[/b], 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.
As a singer, Austra’s Katie Stelmanis possesses an elusive, intangible, ineffable quality that you can’t help but notice. Unique and resembling nothing except itself, Stelmanis’ eccentric voice belongs in the current crop of artsy-fartsy women-in-pop, with the likes of St. Vincent’s Annie Clark, Glasser’s Cameron Mesirow, and Julianna Barwick.
Siouxsie Sioux once said her music reflected the tension of blood splashed on a daisy in the sunshine. The same goes for the debut album of Canadian trio Austra, which offers up a haunting mixture of dark, almost EBM-ish beats, melancholy atmospheres and ghostly female vocals. Drawing openly from an '80s goth-girl playbook, Austra nonetheless feel remarkably contemporary.Credit for that must go to the occasional strange accents and operatic melodies of singer Katie Stelmanis who joins the ranks of Zola Jesus, Bat For Lashes, Beach House, Fever Ray and other new sisters of the moon here.
Austra is the project of Latvian-born Toronto singer-songwriter Katie Stelmanis. Over the past several years, Stelmanis has built her reputation amidst the Canadian co-operative community Blocks Recording Club, working alongside artists like Fucked Up and Owen Pallett. However, she’s turned the right heads on her own, flourishing an avant-garde aesthetic that very noticeably channels the powerful, ominous vocals of The Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson.
As melodic as it is melodramatic, the Canadians’ debut LP is a dark-hearted triumph. Alix Buscovic 2011 It’s a pleasing synchronicity: the very day that Kate Bush, the reclusive queen of quirk-pop, finally leaves her castle in the clouds to release her first album in six years, another Kate with a voice made for echoing around bleak landscapes, and a penchant for drama and the otherworldly, brings out her debut with Austra. Former opera student Katie Stelmanis has been filling Toronto with the sound of music since she hit double figures – first as a chorister, then with post-punked-up gay grungers Galaxy; solo, and now, as singer-songwriter in this goth electro trio that bears her (middle) name.