Whatever their medium, every great artist attempts to create from personal experience in the hope to speak universally. The break up album is a rite of passage for most musicians. A way to find some emotional closure to a shattered relationship and use that catharsis to help move past it. There has been many seminal albums that are considered break up albums, including Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and now we can add Austra to this list with her new album HiRUDIN. The Toronto based artist, also known as Katie Stelmanis, has crafted an amazingly beautiful album that documents the aftermath of a toxic relationship and through the 11 amazing songs collected here takes the listener through her journey looking inward to find some outward solace. Austra has been on the forefront of the Canadian electronic music scene with her last three wonderful records and on HiRUDIN has created her most immediate and openly emotional release yet.
HiRUDIN starts with “Anywayz” with Stelmanis’s ethereal vocals taking centre stage overtop of some hazy synths until it builds up into a joyous, what can be described as, Baroque Disco. You can hear the influence of such artists as ABBA and Boney M with an almost New Age-y flavour added. While the track may be uplifting the message contained on it, the realization that even after your relationship is doomed and you need to move on, the world will keep turning and life goes on. There’s a strong nature theme that runs through the record. On “Anywayz’ Stelmanis sings that even through her love affair is over, “The Flowers Come Up Anyways, The Mountains Rise Up Anyways.” It’s just the first reference to how the natural world will keep on even when you feel like you are falling apart. “All I Wanted” continues the Baroque style influence going with contributions from contemporary classical improv group c_RL, the cellist and kamanche duo Kamancello and kulintang ensemble Pantayo. It’s quite the powerful backing to Stelmanis’s lyrics about leaving her relationship behind. One of the nice things about the album is that Stelmanis puts her vocals right up front. Her luminous voice is defiantly the star of the show and that choice is perfect as through this she makes the most out of the emotional experience of the album. “Your Family” is all about wondering if her ex’s family will ask about her when they see them again. The inherent tension of those thoughts are reflected though the pulsating synths that permeate through Stelmanis’s gorgeous vocal performance. Single “Risk It” see Austra employing a vocal modulator and over a minimal synth and beat with again her voice above all else. It’s dance music to cry to and it’s pretty glorious. “Mountain Baby” sees a children’s choir over a single piano part and a killer breakbeat that echoes shades of 90s hip hop. Album highlight “I Am Not Waiting” trades the record’s previous musical lightness for some dark disco-esque sub bass and some haunting synth melodies. Austra does such a great job on the album juxtaposing these fun dance-y elements with genuine emotional connection.
Throughout the 34 minutes of HiRUDIN, named after the the peptide released by leeches that is the most potent anticoagulant in the world, Austra takes you on an amazing journey through her head and and her heart. It’s a powerful statement about letting go and untangling the maze of feelings on the way to closure, while also recognizing and breaking the toxic patterns that have become too common in her past. By the time we get to album closer “Messiah”, Stelmanis has invited us into her deepest, darkest and most personal thoughts. We get to hear first hand how she has looked inward to find the resolve to move on and, even though this journey is uniquely hers, there is still so much that everyone listening can completely relate to.
review by Adam Fink