Emerging on Austra’s 2011’s debut, Feel It Break, as a sort of electro-Goth version of Florence Welch, Katie Stelmanis initially didn’t require much of her three-piece band; shaped by classical opera training, her evocatively delicate vibrato was the primary force that floated eerie synth-pop melodies up into the ether. For the follow-up, Olympia, Stelmanis has taken a more collaborative approach, doubling the size of her group, recording live, and incorporating input from her colleagues. There’s a clear sense of shared responsibility in the record’s dense layering and expansive harmonies, and the broader perspective has generated welcome experimentation with new methods and moods.
“Painful Like,” for example, grooves to a slinky, pulsing bass line free of loops or samples, while “We Become,” perhaps the album’s catchiest track, almost sounds like a carefree reggae beach party. Overall, there’s a greater focus on dance-worthy beats and techno-inspired rhythms that often quietly materialize from tense, slow-burning beginnings—though cuts such as “Annie (Oh Muse, You)” perhaps stick a little too closely to the generic Euro-discothèque blueprint. Throughout the album, a variety of synths and effects give depth to the bare-bones piano riffs that frequented Feel It Break, and vibrant percussion choices prevent the house-music format from feeling too detached. Yet, even with the larger sound, Olympia is a significantly more personal record than its predecessor, packed with affecting confessions of love, pain, and insecurity.
Thematically, the album deals in matters of the heart, and the laments of heartbreak are conveyed on “Home” as simply as “You know that it hurts me when / You don’t come home at night” and on “You Changed My Life” as the bleak contrast of “You changed my life / For the best” with “The sun is cold and dark as night.” Though the record’s wider scope and stylistic diversity deprives it of the singularly captivating experience that was Feel It Break, the undercurrent of introspection provides cohesion and purpose. Not all of Olympia’s added complexity works to its benefit, but the album succeeds as a necessary stepping-stone on Stelmanis’ path of artistic discovery.