Katie Stelmanis is always making political statements through her art, from her time with riot grrl band Galaxy to her more muted project, Austra. Stelmanis wrote Future Politics before the election results giving the album’s Inauguration Day release a looming and inescapable subtext. “I was kind of worried it wouldn’t be something that people would be interested in, or connect to… [but it’s] become more relevant than I could’ve ever imagined,” she told CBC.
Future Politics filters Austra’s previous sound. Pareing it down to produce straightforward, minimal music similar to club artists like Marie Davidson or Kate Wax. Even Stelmanis’ voice, capable of great force, sounds less operatic than deliberately hollowed-out.
While writing this album, Stelmanis was into science fiction and political manifestos—in particular, the Accelerationist Manifesto and Marge Piercy’s canonical Woman on the Edge of Time, a novel whose utopian visions reach its main character amid abuse and institutional detention. “It needed to have a purpose other than just my own ego,” Stelmanis said. And while Future Politics isn’t impersonal—throughout it runs an undercurrent of loss, partly the result of personal and professional departures in Stelmanis’ life—the album concerns itself primarily with the dark side of “the personal is political,” the slow parallel rot of self-contained depression and political turmoil. When the definition of disordered thinking resembles, so closely and measurably, a world increasingly disordered and unmoored from fact, what do you even do? How do you think? How do you begin to conceive a way out?
Despite all this, Future Politics is an optimistic album presenting solutions. First: self-care is important. “Deep Thought,” a minute-long, a cappella harp palpitation at the end of the record, is reminiscent of dream pop or chillout, or even ASMR—soothing genres. Second: make connections. “I don’t think it’s possible for me to write in a major key,” Stelmanis said (partly in jest) while touring Olympia, but “I Love You More Than You Love Yourself” accomplishes this musically and metaphorically, taking an idea last seen in dull dance backfill and turning it into an ode to redemptive love. “Utopia” has the album’s lushest arrangement, a whirlwind of chiming trance synths, cheery octaves and airy background vocals, and its most indomitably romantic lyric: “I only want to hold your hand my own damn life/I can picture a place where everyone feels it too.” It’s got the highest notes and most triumphant melodies of the album. It’s music to be escaped into, whether on dance floors or alone somewhere, filled with a little less despair.