Katie Stelmanis, the founder and mega-voice behind Toronto-based band Austra (pronounced Ow-stra) grew up a classically trained musician, sang in the Canadian Children’s Opera, and was headed to continue her studies at university when she took a life-changing turn, she saw a punk show and decided to skip college and form a band.
Her goal was to “make classical music with really fucked up, distorted crazy shit on there.” lucky for us she has achieved much more than this statement suggests.
I saw Austra last winter in Brooklyn. A friend called me and left a message saying, simply, “You must see this band”. I enjoy statements delivered with such assuredness. I had a quick listen to what little I could find of the band online and was immediately taken by the vocals. To say they are strong is a complete understatement. To say they are compelling, that they soar, appear to be almost blessed, and mesmerize in a way I haven’t heard in years, again, does not do the music of Austra justice.
Convinced, I went to the show and left glad I did. Austra is made up of Stelmanis on lead vocals, drummer Maya Postepski, and bassist Dorian Wolf. Performing live, they are accompanied by harmonizing twins doing full choreography and a lanky keyboard player keeping things goth as heck. But before you poo poo the band based upon the gothic descriptor utilized above have a listen to Beat and the Pulse off their newly released and anxiously awaited album Feel It Break (Domino).
I am the first to run from the idea of goth: platform boots, vinyl pants, unfortunate piercings, frowny faces, and bummer moods. But one of the best things about Austra is that we are forced to re-examine entire genres of music. Electronic, industrial, gothic, pop — personally, all of these are not the most intriguing descriptions — but somehow Stelmanis manages to utilize the best of each of these genre tags and has produced something with true beauty, integrity, and permanence. Songs like “Lose It” and “The Choke” boarder on bubblegum at times but never slip into unforgivable. Each song is a guilty pleasure, each harmony addictive, and each electronic bleep entering us into a trance of total surrender.
Unfortunately, they are playing everywhere but the Bay Area on their upcoming tours. However, I’m sure they will eventually swing by, and when they do, be there.