Summer is slowly on its way out and many of us are trying to make the most of it. While many of us in Chicago were busy at festivals and concerts, I had the opportunity to check out Austra’s latest release, Habitat. It begins immediately with the titular track, introducing several synths over a two-chord progression accompanied and driven by clean, mid-range female vocals, the only acoustic element in the piece. The vocals add a very ghostly and dark quality to the song’s mood which is made even more apparent after the first minute of introductory melodies, whereupon the pace is developed into a dance beat with metronomic kicks and snare hits predominantly on beats 2 and 4. Though it is very repetitive, the piece has many moments of musical statement where certain instruments will drop out and the vocals will take up more of the foreground space.
‘Doepfer’, a nearly five minute long instrumental track, has the drive and pace of a scene in a spy movie, and I don’t mean like a fight scene but more like a snooping-around-the-enemy-lair-and-gathering-intel moment. In order to complete their mission, our spy has to dodge the glaring cameras and avoid the various sentries which patrol the chrome plated halls of a maze-like facility. Though the tempo and pulse remain constant throughout, the mood and action shift organically to create contrasting moments of intensity. This is a really cool piece, rich in detail and yet minimal in nature.
As the title suggests, ‘Bass Drum Dance’ is very heavy in the low end. It takes a little while to get rolling, nearly a minute until the high-range instruments make their appearance. After two minutes the sense of time is being played with by many delaying instruments overlapping each other and generating a disorienting effect. The main melodic line, an arpeggio that seems to lazily glide into each note’s obvious rhythmic destination, is especially maddening. At 3:20, dissonant female vocals briefly feature themselves amid the swelling synth pad and booming sub-kicks. Talk about creepy.
And finally, Habitat wraps up with ‘Hulluu’, similar to the second track, this song is mainly a percussion-driven loop with deep bass kicks, and industrial midi-instruments. It has some cool moments, particularly when the whispering vocals come in at the middle and end of the song, beyond that, it’s not very imaginative, and that goes for the rest of the album. It’s not bad, but it’s not very gripping.