You can only guess that Katie Stelmanis and her electro-pop band Austra had some magical insight into some of the events that took place in 2016 while recording their third album. Going into 2017, there’s more than a few people who are feeling rather pessimistic about where exactly humanity is headed, and what the political landscape will look like in another 12 months (let’s face it: it probably won’t be pretty). So on this new album, Stelmanis is calling for “a commitment to replace the approaching dystopia.” That sounds more than welcome.
Future Politics isn’t a typical political album, though. There are flashes where Stelmanis sings about the concept of thinking about a new way of living on the title track (because “the system won’t help you when the money runs out”), or about how “I live in a city full of people I don’t know,” referencing our increasingly, perhaps even surprisingly, isolated world on ‘Utopia.’ ‘Gaia’ is one of the most in-your-face tracks in this sense, an environmental parable that focuses on a gradual destruction of the planet.
But as she says herself, this is a record that’s strangely not too concerned with “being political,” at least not in an overt sense. Instead, Stelmanis cloaks her messages in oblique statements where you really have to think about how they relate to a potentially more utopian society. So it’s possible to see ‘I Love You More Than You Love Yourself’ as something of an ode to self-care and a call for greater self-belief, for example, but it’s also possible that might just wash over the listener entirely.
It’s all a bit like subliminal messaging buried within the powerful and sometimes operatic tones of Stelmanis herself. One of the main aims of Future Politics is to reach “beyond boundaries, in every single field,” and she certainly sounds like she’s transcending to some higher plane with her vocal performances, which have never sounded so varied and, at times, angelic. It’s really too bad you can’t always say the same about the music itself. The title track, ‘Utopia’ and ‘Angel in Your Eye’ are all built on a foundation of club-ready, slightly tinny beats and rubbery, reverberating synths that seem to only be slightly varied in tone.
Where the record really shines is when Stelmanis decides either to turn the volume down or get a bit more experimental. The quiet, downbeat electronica of ‘Beyond a Mortal’ and ‘I’m a Monster’ are truly haunting, while ‘Freepower’ is constructed almost purely of percussive noises that are almost industrial but still manage to be oddly danceable. She even manages to make the minute-long interlude of ‘Deep Thought’ beguiling, its quickly strummed harp melodies creating a gorgeous sense of wonderment that’s a beautiful change of pace.
What you get out of Future Politics will depend on what you’re willing to put into it, and how much you’re prepared to really listen to Stelmanis’ lyrics. But even if you’re not that way inclined, Austra have still produced another fine electro-pop record that continues to show they’re evolving as an outfit.
Future Politics is released on 20th January 2017 via Domino.