Opening with “What We Done,” Austra’s highly anticipated Olympia establishes an unstoppable juggernaut of musical innovation. Sinister undertones punctuate the bassline as lead singer Katie Stelmanis tells the tale, “So I dance with nothing/So I dance for free/And there is no glamor.” Displaying her incredible talent for range, Stelmanis’ voice resounds throughout the entire song. The second track, “Forgive Me,” is a lugubrious pleading in which Stelmanis implores, “What do I have to do to make you forgive me?/I wouldn’t even have to tell the world if you could hear that I’m sorry.” “Painful Like” is, as mentioned before, the most noticeable nod to the style and sound that both Daft Punk and Giorgio Moroder have cultivated, though, of course, with Stelmanis’ own brand of operatic flair added to the dance-tinged backbeat. Although the band is Canadian in origin, there is an unmistakable European tint in every song on Olympia.
“Sleep” is an appropriately titled track in terms of the pacing–a slow lullaby that is, indeed, sleep-inducing. Surges of vocal overpowerment occur as Stelmanis laments, “You’ll never know me, I’ll never know you.” The pain and longing in her voice is apparent with each repetition of this verse. “Home” is one of the first tracks to let Stelmanis’ voice be the complete focus of the song. Though the music in the song occasionally shines through, it is the quavering, urgent vocals that are truly notable. Her sadness over the absence of the one she loves is evident as she sings, “You know that it hurts me when you don’t come home at night/What is it that keeps you there/Keeping you occupied?”
“Fire” continues the slow tempo, one-word song title pattern. A carefully executed track in which Stelmanis builds up to a more assertive vocal styling as the song progresses, it is one of the most distinctive pieces on Olympia. Building to a beautiful harmonization of voices as “Fire” comes to a close, it then transitions seamlessly to “I Don’t Care (I’m A Man)”–a song that makes a clear statement with its title. An interlude of sorts that details the belittlement of women in any society, Stelmanis concludes each line with “I don’t care, I’m a man.” The brevity of the song is perhaps what makes it so impactful as you’re left to contemplate what she has reiterated.
“We Become” is a mid-tempo track that serves as something of a midpoint to the album–even though “Fire” would have chronologically done so. But, in terms of motif and genre, “We Become” separates the rest of the album from the initial seven tracks. More whimsical in tone, Stelmanis maintains her natural air of melancholy, only with a more apparent tinge of hopefulness. “Reconcile” carries on the tone of “We Become” with its chimerical musical construction and the rich, vibrant tone of Stelmanis’ voice making it impossible to understand the lyrics upon first listen. “Annie (Oh Muse, You)” embraces is a sort of Eurodance theme that could just as effortlessly exist in the discotheques of the 1980s as it does now.
“You Changed My Life” is a succinct, straightforward song wherein Stelmanis repeats, “You changed my life for the best.” With an elaborate musical pause without lyrics, the song eventually fades out in a way that leaves you still wanting more (kind of like Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake” interlude). “Hurt Me Now,” the realest track on the album by virtue of the title alone, is a dramatic, sweeping song with its–once again–eighties-esque musical vibe. An ideal offering to conclude a record that is, let’s be honest, flawless, Olympia is the album BtH is most looking forward to seeing performed live this summer.