Many of this season's sophomore electronica/dance releases share a common thread: A pop sound is reshaped in more baroque terms, non-pop influences (like contemporary classical, chamber music, opera) are creeping in, dance-floor immediacy is traded in for something weirder, a bit more complicated and challenging. You can hear it on British chanteuse Emika's Dva, which opens with a long passage sung by Czech soprano Michaela Šrmová, or in Little Boots' dark-disco makeover on Nocturnes (not to mention The Knife's new and confounding fourth album).
Austra's follow-up to 2011's crisply demonic Feel It Break follows this trajectory. It's a much stagier album; less pop, more pomp. Even the album cover depicts bandleader Katie Stelmanis in front of a stagey backdrop, as if to acknowledge that Olympia thinks of itself as taking place in the theater more than the dance club. The album's lead single, "Home," channels Tori Amos as much as Siouxsie Sioux. That's a pretty big departure from Feel It Break's arch pop-paganism.
Stelmanis' character on Olympia is now more ingénue than witchy priestess. "You Changed My Life," "Sleep," and "What We Done?" are full of theatrical discursions that are, frankly, plaintive and vulnerable. Stelmanis begs for mercy on "Hurt Me Now" and clemency on "Forgive Me." There are a couple of misfires-"We Become" has a particularly wrong-headed late-'80s cheesiness to it-but overall, Olympia's pretty wonderful. Austra was once a band that wanted to creep you out; on Olympia they set their sights on seducing you.