Toronto three-piece Austra has routinely been labeled “goth” in the press for its debut album, Feel It Break. As a description, it’s accurate enough. From start to finish, the album is full of brooding synth-pop numbers in the minor key, with cryptic lyrics washed in reverb.
But, on a coincidental level, the “goth” label has a historical appropriateness to it. Gothic cathedrals, for all of the darkness associated with their name, featured towering windows that let in more sunlight than any other type of building built before, giving their interiors a distinct sense of lightness.
Feel It Break is a lot like that. “Darken Her Horse,” the album’s opener, begins with a pulsing, mid-range synth loop and steely vocal incantations, but soon enough, a shimmering arpeggiator enters the mix to give the song a floating, spacey feel. The rest of the album’s 11 tracks pick up on this oscillation between darkness and buoyancy, making for a finished product that’s equally suitable for the dance floor as it is for a darkened, candlelit room.
By far the most interesting thing about Austra’s sound is singer Katie Stelmanis’ voice, which she honed by singing in the Canadian Opera Company as a kid. It’s dynamic and pitch-perfect, powerful but delicately controlled. Austra is at its best when Stelmanis is front and center in the mix, showing off her hard-earned singing chops (see “Lose It” and “Hate Crime”).
But, even when the singer’s voice is tucked between hypnotic synth riffs and throbbing drum loops, the band pulls it off. As a debut and a fleshing out of Stelmanis’ previous eponymous work, Feel It Break is a solid place to build from and a reason to expect good things from Austra in the future.