Toronto band Austra’s classically-trained vocalist Katie Stelmanis carries the resounding weight of their newest album HiRUDiN with absolute earth-shattering, tear-jerking grace. She paired up with a number of new collaborators for her fourth full-length album, including co-producers Rodaidh McDonald and Joseph Shabason, Cecile Believe, c_RL, Kamancello, and even a children’s choir for one of the advance singles, “Mountain Baby”. Stelmanis sings of a break up from an unhealthy relationship in a way that’s never been heard before; the result is a composition that sounds at once highly danceable and like a haunting gospel.
The rise and fall of Stelmanis’ operatic voice is as evocative of the emotional seesawing of such a relationship, as it is a reflection of the underlying lyrical motif of mountains. Despite the visceral depth of an experience as tormenting as losing someone toxic and discovering oneself again, she is not shy to admit that “the world keeps turning anyways”. Stelmanis takes an introspective look at the whirlwind of responses given the situation; namely, grief, loneliness, panic, doubt, anger, restlessness, and finally, acceptance. The pain is utterly palpable when she discusses everything from a helplessness to rid herself of thoughts and past memories, to a paralyzing fear and uncertainty. She is afraid to let go, but just as afraid of holding on. While the material is inherently weighty, she offers two interludes as moments of rest in the eleven track album, and also includes a particularly bouncy melody in “I Am Not Waiting”. Finally, despite a seemingly bleak overall message, the final song does imagine what an ideal relationship could look like, which she sees as a symbiotic balance of individuality and support.
Stelmanis’ unique voice is one that rings out bare, yet massive – the likes of Bjork and Florence + the Machine – and demonstrates a consistency of style that can be recognized anywhere. While her other albums express different tones and genre influences, she clearly shows an expansive timbre and range that proves she has the strength to heal and say, “I’m over you, I’m over you, I’m over you”!