April 27, 2020 Austra – HiRUDiN (Album Review)
In terms of bloodsucking leeches and parasites, those most often thought of are the small, creepy crawlies we often avoid. However, there are many that come in human form as well. For Canadian Electronic act Austra, masterminded by Katie Stelmanis, HiRUDiN is a chance to explore a more different approach to music and tell a story of toxic relations as well as the entrapping behavior that accompanies them.
For those who do not know, by definition, hirudin is the peptide in salivary glands of bloodsucking leeches. A fitting title for the theme of Austra’s fourth overall album due out on Friday, May 1st via Domino, does it give the talented artist the outlet she needs to move on from the past?
Complete with eleven songs, HiRUDiN opens with “Anyways” where Austra’s fluttering, falsetto singing plays against the background of whispering synth and piano. The longing in her voice for the intimacy of her partner is tangible in the opening lyrics. From here the instrumentation changes to distorted pipes and simmering drums. Thereafter, “All I Wanted” is composed of rapidly plucked strings and a simmered down vocal performance. The lower end of her lush singing is exposed in this song, alongside a swirling gradient of auditory ambiance.
Which leads the way for “How Did You Know?” where the beautiful cadence of Austra’s voice flickers through thoughtful lyrics. The synth pulses and ebbs as the quaint drums pitter in the distance. Furthermore, the inclusion of xylophone brings a fantastical element to the track and feeds perfectly into the masterpiece. This is while “Its Amazing” displays the delicate vibrato of Austra’s voice amongst humming and pattering synth. A standout moment, it raises up in a tribal-like rhythm, intertwining the patient synth and metallic percussion as her voice grows in strength.
Making things even more interesting, “Mountain Baby” features the talents of Cecile Believe. Beginning with a chorus of children describing their ascent up a mountain with a repetitive piano melody in accompaniment, Believe and Austra join their voices together briefly before Believe’s vibrant voice takes over for the chorus. Lastly, the finale of HiRUDiN comes with “Messiah,” a song which opens with the lone keys of piano before Austra begins her soulful crooning. Strange, flickering synth cycles behind her singing, and drums pop and snap in a steady pace making for a magnificent finish.
Austra is in a vocal class alongside very few singers. She can move effortlessly from note to note, belt and whisper, and explore every facet of their voice with finesse. The components of every track on HiRUDiN are minimal but layered in a way that makes sense for every mood and tone. That in mind, the percussion never stands in the forefront, but fits well with the flow of Austra’s voice. Furthermore, the synth work on each track is phenomenal and unique as they are the main instrument components of each track. Overall, Austra gives an outstanding vocal performance on HiRUDiN ranging from operatic, haunting high notes to the eloquent and resonant part of her voice. So to answer the question, it does provide a just outlet for the riddance of bad vibes, and that is why Cryptic Rock gives HiRUDiN 4.5 out of 5 stars.