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Austra's Forgive Me: The Art of Sad Dance Music

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I borrowed the title of this blog post from The Guardian's review of Canadian electronic band Austra's second album, Olympia (2013): 

 "Sad dance music is an art, and few do it well, but Austra's debut album, Feel It Break, with its operatic flair for doomy synths and high drama, suggested they knew their way around a minor chord. The Toronto band take a step forward with Olympia, sweeping up that debut's more introspective, bedroomy inclinations and dumping them in the middle of the dancefloor... What's most striking is how great this sounds – clean, considered, with every detail in its place and a clear sense of its own identity. It's tailor-made for tears at 4am."


Having only been recently introduced to Austra by fellow KurrentMusic blogger Ollie, I haven't had the time to fully immerse myself in Austra's entire ouevre of intimately operatic electronic tracks, but I'm currently hooked on one track that seems to exemplify Austra's signature sadness: 'Forgive Me'.


It clearly embodies the 'tears at 4 am' aesthetic in a refreshingly direct and honest manner, as Erin Manning of  notes: ""Forgive Me", a plea to an estranged lover or friend, is blunt both lyrically ("What do I have to do to make you forgive me?") and musically: obsessive, pinprick-tense, desperate for closure [italics added]."


The lyrics may be blunt, but the song takes on a semi-tragic poignancy when you realize that these lyrics are all the words that she cannot say to the now-estranged significant other (or the implicit realization that these words - even if she finds the courage to utter them - may not amount to anything in this situation, as the damage done is likely to be irreversible):

'What do I have to do to make you forgive me?I wouldn't even dare the words if you could hear "I'm sorry"What do I say to make it so you stay around me?What do I have to do, what will release me?How can I make you believe me?I want you come mind me when I call out forPlease understand.'


The emotional impact of the speaker's guilt and desolation is delivered flawlessly by lead singer Katie Stelmanis, "a much-admired fixture on Toronto’s art-punk scene with a voice like a heavily medicated soaring eagle ...Stelmanis never sounds like she’s singing over a track; that icily devastated voice always seems to emit from the center of it" (Stereogum, 2013). The track's beats, synths and pulses all work harmoniously to convey that inner sense of anguish and desperation, propelling the track forward until the last verse (which mournfully repeats the verse 'What do I have/ What do I have/ What do I have ... What do I have to do?'), reinforcing the haunting, regretful hopelessness that lies at the emotional core of the track.


The track is further enhanced by a dark, NSFW music video directed by Claire Edmonson, featuring various individuals cruising around a park at dusk, compelled by lust, the desire for intimacy, and desperation to grope for a searing, fleeting, heart-pounding rendezvous with a stranger in the covers of darkness:





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