For Canadian electronic pop band Austra, who operate within a genre fundamentally rooted in a strong four-on-the-floor rhythm, the decision to entitle their new release Beat and the Pulse emits an aura of confidence in simplicity. There’s no cryptic New Order song titling here; the music is left to stand on its own merit, and that’s a brave move for an unestablished band coming to a crossroad that will make or break.

Doubly so given that, like it or not, electro-pop as a tag now holds a strong musical stigma. It’s no longer interesting – like it was thirty years ago – to say you make pop music using a synthesiser; you need the tracks to back it up and thankfully Austra’s music justifies their belief. Sure, the compositional structures may not be anything groundbreaking, but as a single entity there’s a definite edge to the songs, a uniqueness which indicates that Austra just might be different.

A large part of this is the powerful and emotive vocal delivery of lead singer and songwriter Katie Stelmanis. From first listen one would be hard pressed to realise she’s actually Canadian; her voice holds an eerie, haunting quality more easily associated with the likes of Karin Andersson or Nika Danilova rather than anything out of North America, and it befits Austra’s dark-wave style of pop perfectly. Title track ‘Beat and the Pulse’ hits hard out of the gates with an industrial beat not dissimilar to something off of Pretty Hate Machine, yet Stelmanis’ vocals easily manage to penetrate the thick sonic exterior to find their place as a vital part of the track. Even when Maya Postepski’s pounding drum patterns are left to take centre stage, the relative silence acts as a natural precursor to her next entrance, and in this way her prominence never really disappears at all.

The rest of the EP takes a slightly different tone. The beats are still there, but organ-like synths, melodic keys and even glockenspiel chimes all find their footing. ‘I transform into energy with your mouth’ Stelmanis howls repeatedly on middle track ‘Energy’, the simple chord progression providing a somewhat calmer backdrop to her longing cries, so loud and high pitched that they simply can’t be ignored, even with the numerous other elements going on around her. Closer ‘Young & Gay’ sees the singer finally ready to relinquish some control to her band mates, as well as her own musicianship. Her vocals sound more steadied and focused, you can better hear each sound as it enters and exits the mix, and the synths are being pressed rather than stabbed at. It’s an appropriately more relaxed finisher and shows the band exploring a few more musical ideas, which means as ‘Young & Gay’ fades almost nonchalantly  you’re left wondering how Austra would proceed given a few more tracks.

Thankfully, the EP comes as a prelude to their now announced Feel it Break LP forthcoming in May. It’s telling that this productive period of output is courtesy of Domino Records, a label with a penchant for helping forward-thinking, under the radar artists discover their potential (look no further than the likes of psych-poppers Animal Collective or Björk favourite Dirty Projectors). Time will tell whether Feel it Break propels Austra to that level of acclaim – to lay such a weight of expectation upon the band is ambitious – but for the moment these three tracks are more than enough to whet the appetite.

Beat and the Pulse is out on 21st of February on Domino Records.

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