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      2. Austra


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        AllMusic Review by

        On Future Politics, Austra's Katie Stelmanis crafted an eerily prescient sci-fi dystopia; on its follow-up, she chronicles the end of a world two people created and the possibilities that lie within what happens next. Named for an anticoagulant secreted by leeches, Hirudin is an extreme breakup album, reflecting how Stelmanis severed ties with all of her romantic and creative partners and sought out new collaborators and experiences. Working with co-producers Rodaidh McDonald and Joseph Shabason, members of the contemporary classical improv group c_RL, and a kulintang ensemble, among others, Stelmanis uses this opportunity to return to the foundations of her music. She exalts Austra's classical and pop sides on Hirudin, whether on the brief flutter of brass and woodwinds of "Interlude II" or the sensual hooks of "It's Amazing." Though the album is about breaking free from the ugliness of toxic relationships, it's some of Stelmanis' loveliest music. Her voice and melodies have rarely sounded as pristine as they do on Hirudin, and this purity makes the album's songs all the more transporting. The standout "Anywayz" is a love song that hinges on loss, with a melody that teeters between worry and hope as Stelmanis realizes that the world will go on even if her relationship doesn't. Similarly, "Risk It"'s bright, brassy piece of synth pop quivers with newly won freedom and boasts a pitched-up chorus that sounds like a little voice inside the head that won't be silenced. Stelmanis doesn't just sing about taking chances on Hirudin -- she delivers daring songs like the fascinating "Mountain Baby," which shifts from a children's choir to sleek, slippery electro pop. She also dares herself to write some of her most revealing lyrics since 2014's Olympia. Hirudin's first half consists of songs that are almost diaristic, peppered with lines that could come from countless arguments ("I'm afraid to commit," "You fucked it up," "All I wanted was your love"). On "Your Family," Stelmanis captures a universal part of breaking up that's rarely mentioned in song: over synths shuddering with anguish, she wails, "And when your family comes back to town/Do you know what you will say/When they ask about me?" Later, her writing becomes more abstract and archetypal to accommodate the scope of her journey, as on the frosty dance pop of "I Am Not Waiting" or "Messiah," where a strangely timeless melody and massive clouds of synths and vocals convey a sense of finality as well as the start of something new. While it's not as brilliantly cohesive as Future Politics, Hirudin's exploration of losing someone and finding yourself sounds like the music Stelmanis had to make.

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