When Austra frontwoman Katie Stelmanis began working on Future Politics, she had no idea that, upon its release, the album’s dystopian landscape would pan over so seamlessly to the world outside. “When I was writing it, I was feeling like some of these ideas were a little bit left-field,” she told The Guardian. “I didn’t know people would connect with them, but now, people are starting to talk.” During time spent traveling, much of it alone in Montreal and Mexico City, Stelmanis says a feeling of collective depression inspired her to start reading up on what would become themes of the album—capitalism, technology, climate change—and specifically radical and futurist perspectives on these issues.
People are starting to talk because the sci-fi austerity of Future Politics feels like less of an exaggeration than it should. Its dystopia is less the dismal Blade Runner environment we typically associate with the word and more the invisibly sinister, pacifying beauty found in films like Her. It’s a fitting application of Austra’s icy electropop and a natural evolution from its house-influenced sophomore effort, Olympia.
The album begins with the slow-dawning synths of “We Were Alive,” an awakening to “how we’ve been cheated, the lies.” It’s the sound of an automaton glitching out, or a host having a memory she shouldn’t be. From there Future Politics explores its hefty themes through personal experiences of apathy, agency, and dehumanization. These explorations are most poignant in the undeniable grooves of songs like “Utopia,” the Kraftwerkian “Freepower,” and the title track. But every song here is in some way an anthem—of vision (“I can picture a place”), of determination to stay awake amid the insanity of gas-lighting (“I try to keep my head on straight”). Even closing track “43” wants to leave listeners with this assurance: “Don’t ignore the feeling, you’re in the right.”
Sometimes the album’s polished production and predictable structures seem to undermine its radical message. But rather than pushing its agenda at the fringes, this record aims to infiltrate and change from within, for the most part using catchy hooks and accessible structures to ask a wider audience to think bigger. There is some interesting experimentation, like in the mutating swing of “I’m A Monster,” but sonically, it’s in Stelmanis’ unorthodox vocal phrasing and acrobatics, her striking harmonies throughout, that Austra and Future Politics find true subversion.
It’s especially powerful that Future Politics would ask us to engage with its big ideas on the dance floor, itself a powerful place of transgression and revolution. The dance floor is a safe haven and, Orlando reminded us, still a life-and-death outlet for many. Facing down certain political retrograding, it’ll be a place and a headspace as important as ever. Austra’s optimistic and propulsive record is a welcome accompaniment.