What’s to be done when the future seems like a terrifying dystopia in which the only possible reaction is to scream in an increasingly unhinged fashion? It’s a pretty bleak time if you’re of the more progressive bent, and just seeing that Austra‘s third album is entitled Future Politics makes you wonder whether this is the first reaction to our new Trumpian age.
It’s not, of course – these songs were all written and recorded before the election result in November – but Katie Stelmanis’s band have certainly created a suitably chilly and eerie soundtrack to the years ahead. Future Politics is another impressive step in the evolution of Austra: while the band’s second album was a move towards shiny, commercial pop, the follow up sees a more sparse, fragile collection of songs.
While this is obviously Austra’s most explicitly political album to date, there’s as much emphasis on the personal. Utopia touches on social isolation (“I live in a city full of people I don’t know”) and the need for human contact (“I only want to hold your hand”), and I Love You More Than You Love Yourself is a steely hymn to self-esteem, with Stelmanis’ sweeping and soaring voice sounding wonderfully effective.
Stelmanis’s influences are worn pretty much on her sleeve – there are echoes of Björk, The Knife and, at times, a more electro-inspired version of Kate Bush all through Future Politics. There’s also more than a touch of fellow Canadian electro-poppers Braids, especially in the way that there seems to be a deep wave of emotion bubbling under the clean, smooth production.
Austra haven’t forgotten how to write a killer hook either – the title track boasts a naggingly catchy chorus that will live you for days after listening to it, while the aforementioned Utopia is a beautifully mesmerising slice of downbeat disco, reminiscent of Grimes. It’s also a key track on the album, as it’s a plea for optimism not despair – “I can picture a place where everybody feels it too..it might be fiction, but I see it ahead”.
It’s that sense of optimism and hope that makes Future Politics such a rewarding listen. I’m A Monster may have a repeated lyric of “I don’t feel nothing anymore” but with its introduction of Stelmanis hitting a ridiculous number of high notes and a constant pulsing synth burbling underneath, it seems to possess a steely resilience rather than the self-hatred that the title would suggest.
Apart from the title track, the most successful moments are when Stelmanis keeps it downbeat – the gorgeous Beyond A Mortal is sparse, frail and utterly hypnotic, while closing track 43 ends the album on a suitably melancholic tone. It’s that last track which also brings the optimism back with the lyric “don’t ignore the feeling you’re in the right” – for an album that’s released on the same day as Donald Trump’s inauguration, this could well be the mantra for the next four years for a lot of people.