Every Tuesday, Torontoist scours record store shelves in search of the city’s most notable new releases and brings you the best—or sometimes just the biggest—of what we’ve heard in Sound Advice.
No longer content with being Toronto’s obscure, opera-meets-indie-rock weirdo, Katie Stelmanis has reinvented herself via brooding electro-pop trio Austra. She’s gone peroxide blonde, grown fond of industrial beats, and released Feel It Break (out on Paper Bag Records), a much-buzzed-about debut disc that’s earned the group comparisons to Zola Jesus, Maria Minerva, and Fever Ray. Talk about a makeover.
But don’t let appearances fool you. Stelmanis, along with bandmates Maya Postepski and Dorian Wolf, may harness a dark drama reminiscent of today’s hottest female-fronted synth-goth acts, but like Rachael Leigh Cook in She’s All That, Austra is worlds apart from all the other cool girls. Emotive wails and shivering, arpeggiated synths pervade all of Feel It Break, but what anchors these tunes are rump-shaking rhythms and good ol’ catchy melodies. “Lose It,” with its electro-flair and quirky falsetto hook, wouldn’t seem out of place on daytime radio. Nine Inch Nails–esque lead single “The Beat and The Pulse,” despite being the album’s most foreboding moment, sounds tailor-made for a make-out session in a seedy rock club. Meanwhile, the stretched-out syllables and jittery piano on “Shoot The Water” are downright whimsical, channeling Kate Bush at her most frolicsome and weird.
That’s not to say Stelmanis has completely abandoned her operatic background. Her soaring notes and cut-glass tone could’ve easily been transplanted from the most baroque of arias, but she’s chosen to take her avant-garde classicism in a less rigid direction. Feel It Break sees her discard the sheet music and indulge her inner-Robyn. It’s as accessible to pop fans as it is to girls in black birdcage veils.