Austra-Future Politics: Album Review

Austra’s voice gives new meaning to music critic phrases of “soaring melodies,” “atmospheric high notes,” and the like.  Throughout Future Politics, impressive vocal acrobatics float over icy electroacoustic space, only coming down to earth on occasion to utter viciously catchy hooks.  The record touches upon the cold nature of contemporary society and government with city life, capitalism, and relationships all facing dissection.  Although Austra’s beats punch and her more radio friendly cuts may incorporate instances of blissful warmth, the record is certainly not complete without tension and contemplation.

“We Were Alive” introduces the mood of the record really well without jumping into the subject matter too specifically.  Disclaimer, I found some of the lyrics hard to decipher, but there’s a sense that Austra is locked in—she uses the metaphor of a fortress—and needs to escape to feel alive.  That which makes her feel this way is left unclear for now, so the general nervousness of the record is introduced rather than her political stances.  We also see microcosms of ideas that will grow more extensive later in the project; the beat here, for example, is certainly driving and punchy, but Austra juxtaposes this with her lengthy vocal lines, adding a bit more discord into the equation.  Towards the end of the record this comes through a lot and even the fourth track—which touches upon the feeling of disconnect—deepens the divide.

After getting things going, Austra delivers some stand-out tracks with “Future Politics” and “Utopia.”  As the single, “Future Politics” is the most straightforward in terms of structure.  The beat is heavy and consistent with a rather wobbling bass line adding to the dance-ability.  Also the hook is a bit more suitable for sing along than the more difficult material later on.  Before the album had dropped, I was admittedly skeptical of this track.  The bass line might be a bit too much for this type of sound and the hook is repeated quite a few times, but after hearing the whole record, it works a lot better for me now.  Also thematically, it’s kind of the heart of the project.  Austra suggests that there’s something wrong with the modern political state and we need to create a better system for the future.  Also, the verses offer a glance at the heartless nature of capitalist systems: “the system won’t help you when your money runs out…I’m not a coward like them I don’t need more money.”

“Utopia” also looks to the future and paints a dark picture of modern life.  Austra sort of describes the city as a mechanical mechanism, void of a sense of community: “I live in a city full of people I don’t know/People riding highways from the workplace to the home.”  Next, Austra talks a bit about relationships and how people can get locked into toxic situations: “A woman screams, she’s looking for meaning behind/A man who’ll make her cry her whole damn life.” This melody might be a bit more out of bounds for sing along, but its driving, triumphant nature certainly gets locked in your brain.

The middle of the record drifts a bit away from the monumental singles and starts to turn to more adventurous song formats.  “I Love You More than You Love Yourself” almost takes up a hyperbolic pop sound at first, but the bridge takes a rather drastic shift with spacey, hymnal synths completely breaking up the rhythmic drive.  “Freepower” adds a lot to the narrative by referencing the first track on the record’s idea of a “fortress.”  Here, Austra is quite clearly wondering about the rhetoric of freedom that’s pushed so heavily by western countries like Canada and the US: “if only it were true if only.”  Sonically, the tune dips its feet into more instrumental driven territory as it drones on into the fifth minute with Austra’s haunting “oohs” really molding the mood into a much darker sound.  “Beyond a Mortal” pushes this even further as the vocal part almost follows the role of an instrumental, simply adding another piece into the collage.  It’s nice how the record sort of spills out in all directions as it goes on.  The songs are pretty contained to start, but these sonic explorations contrast the front of the record completely and we end off in a much different place.

The record doesn’t come entirely without miscues; “Angel in Your Eye” is a bit all over the place sonically.  We get a bit of funk tinged groove that seems pretty far removed from Austra’s playbook.  Perhaps realizing this, the track seems to jump back to the comfort zone at the chorus—the end result is a bit incoherent.  Still, Austra’s really put together something special here.  Her ability to construct a radio worthy hook comes through quite often, but her ear for unpredictable instrumental and vocal ideas also guides her deep into uncharted territory.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

Listen/Purchase: https://austramusic.bandcamp.com/album/future-politics

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