Wednesday, May 11th, 2011
Darken Her Horse
Review of Austra’s Feel It Break
Norman Wong I never really liked Katie Stelmanis. I am not referring to the person – I don’t know her but I’m sure she’s lovely – but her musical project which, circa 2008 at least, was named simply for herself. In Spring of that year, I saw her twice in the span of a week and a bit and while I acknowledged that she was up to something interesting with her distinctive, operatic voice and skeletal synth-and-percussion backing, but it wasn’t doing it for me and as such, I didn’t pay much heed to her debut album Join Us. I did note, however, that her musical identity continued to publicly morph – for a while she was going just by her surname, and then adopted the guise of Private Life before changing once again to Austra. And while there’d always been a degree of local chatter about what she was up to, that’s when I heard people really begin to talk.
And putting aside past prejudices to give Feel It Break, her debut as Austra, a listen I could understand why. Stelmanis’ most distinctive characteristic has always been her voice but it needed the proper context. Obviously I didn’t think the classical/medieval/gothic atmosphere of her eponymous project worked, unless unsettling was what she was going for, but in giving Austra a sleek, synth-heavy, New Wave/80s-industrial personality, she’s found a winning formula that balances mystery and experimentalism with melody and accessibility.
It’s interesting how so much of what makes Austra was already there three years ago, including percussionist Maya Postepski, but now with the addition of ex-Spiral Beach bassist Dorian Wolf and a greater focus on making the songs danceable and memorable, it all sounds completely fresh and new. Okay, perhaps that’s not the most accurate way of putting it since what Stelmanis’ was doing in her self-titled days was technically far more original, but giving Austra its more familiar-sounding reference points has inarguably made her better. Enough so that you can consider me convinced, which is honestly not something I ever thought I’d be saying. Back in 2008, when people around town were talking about how great Katie Stelmanis was, all I could say was, “really?”. Now, when people everywhere are talking about how great Austra is, all I can say is, “really”.
Feel It Break is out next Tuesday, May 17, and Austra plays a hometown record release show a couple nights later on May 19 at Lee’s Palace.
Beatroute, The Winnipeg Free Press, Uptown and The Leader-Post talk to Graham Van Pelt of Miracle Fortress, while aux.tv gets him to unplug for a Camera Music performance. He may be similarly unamplified (or not) when he plays an in-store at Soundscapes this Friday, May 13, at 4PM. He’s at The Phoenix with Junior Boys on June 9.
Chart talks to Fucked Up frontman Damian Abraham about the inadvertent bloodletting that occurred at a recent show, which you can watch for yourself thanks to the magic of YouTube. Exclaim also reports that the band have put up a mixed tape – as in an actual cassette – of Fucked Up rarities, tracks from friends and side-projects and whatnot – for sale in their webstore. Their new album David Comes To Life is out June 7.
The Balconies are finally back with some new material; while a release date for their second album is still forthcoming, a new 7″ a-sided by “Kill Count” will be released on June 14, just ahead of their June 18 NXNE showcase at Sneaky Dee’s.
With the release this week of The Double Cross, the twentieth anniversary of Sloan is well underway. Blurt has a feature interview with the band, Chart has unearthed a bunch of interviews with the band over their long career and the first of ten tribute videos wherein actors, musicians and general celebrities reminisce about what Sloan has meant to them has been released – so far, there’s “First Heard Sloan” and “Favourite Sloan Song”. They play an in-store this Saturday at Sonic Boom at 4PM and the Mod Club on June 22.
Stream: Chad Van Gaalen / Diaper Island
Ticket info for the Weeping Tile/King Cobb Steelie/Have Not Been The Same book release I mentioned a couple weeks back has been revealed – advance tickets will be $18, on sale tomorrow, with proceeds going to the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health.
And some Can-con love across the pond; Drowned In Sound takes a look at what’s happening musically in Toronto right now and The Line Of Best Fit have released their sixteenth (16th) Oh! Canada compilation of downloadable goodness.