Latvian-Canadian Katie Stelmanis and her band named after her middle name, Austra, after discovering ‘Private Life’ was taken, caught the short end of the Polaris stick when fellow countrymen Arcade Fire tore minds up with The Suburbs. 2011’s Feel It Break saw a rising, classically trained operatic tread new territory in between the dark chasms of a Depeche Mode wave and the kaleidoscopic electroni-pop of Nordic lands, armed with a lust for aggressive synths and soaring mantras usually aimed at getting shit done, or encouraging a generation to fight for their right to be creative: [LISTEN]

Capture something read,
Paste it to the edge of your bed
Someone will be there,
Someone who will know what it says

Feel it break,
Nothing’s a mistake
Feel it break

Though Stelmanis was hiding behind dancefloor aggressions too much, favoring cryptics over declarative statements. Wheres Olympia, strewn with three additional members and a new confidence is a rare sophomore record that outshines its predecessor, embracing both Stelmanis’ gothic leanings and love for the “Beat and the Pulse” to unveil a beautifully vulnerable catharsis aimed at shaping her evolving queer identity and relationship theory while still losing herself to dance. Burbling anthem “What We Done?” is sensual and straightforward before it pops off with an organic throb that Giorgio Moroder would be proud of, Stelmanis asserting: [LISTEN]

So I dance with nothing
So I dance for free

Instead of puffing her chest in defiance for the whole ride, Stelmanis’ vulnerability is bore around every corner, from downtempo dreamscapes about never truly knowing someone (“Sleep“) to the careening woodblock anxieties of forgiveness (“Forgive Me“), the sparkling Cocteau Twins‘ haunts of making amends (“Reconcile“), she’s going through virtually every stage of grief with a firm foot toward a healing path. Even when playing with emotions of denial on a minute-long segue (“I Don’t Care (I’m a Man)“), she’s paying respects to tender weakness: [LISTEN]

The quiet indoor fighting
The whimper in her sigh
The softer brutalizing
But I don’t care, I’m a man

It’s not a perfect ride. “You Changed My Life” sees Stelmanis’ crystalline throat get tired, like listening to a friend whine about lover woes, because, someone’s got to be on the receiving end of that. And “Annie (Oh Muse, You)” rehashes Feel It Break‘s lost creativity themes in uninspiring, Ace of Bace-ish cheap key strides. But for a record so un-inhibited, and so capable of turning dark emotions into something pleasurable for the hips, they’re easy to forgive. Even with the protection of lies:

You know that it hurts me when you can’t see straight at night
Lies will keep you there, keeping you glorified
In my heart