There’s a strange dichotomy at work with electronic music. It is, by its very nature, a cold, almost distant type of music. Ones and zeros replace the strummed and drummed flesh and blood instruments and their players. But electronica is also a very visceral genre in the feeling and actions (dancing) it can elicit from listeners. So when a band like Canadian outfit Austra comes along and pairs a classically trained voice with hard synths and beats, it seems completely unnaturally natural.
The aforementioned classically trained voice belongs to Austra leader and keyboardist Katie Stelmanis. At 10, she became a member of the Canadian Children’s Opera, and classical music seemed to be the way she was spinning until more the more underground sounds of industrial, punk and electronica caught her fancy. Stelmanis played in a few groups, and performed solo before teaming up with former bandmate Maya Postepski and bassist Dorian Wolf. They called themselves Austra–after the Latvian derivative of the Germanic godess of light Ēostre (Fun Fact: that’s also where the English word “Easter” comes from). The band, today a sextet, delivered their debut full-length Feel It Break in 2011.
Next week (June 18), Austra releases their sophomore LP Olympia. The second single is track called “Painful Like.” The song opens with pounding, club-y synths and bass. Then, like some other-worldly craft, Stelmanis’s vocals descend upon the track. Her ethereal voice smooths out the 90-degree angles of the beat, a bit like the way Donna Summer’s does on a song like “Love To Love You Baby.” But while that track brimmed with sexuality, a different spirit guides this song. “Painful Like” is disco for a digital generation, one reared on hard ones and zeroes. But Austra has an ace in Stelmanis and her voice. She adds that essential bit of humanity.