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Austra | HiRUDiN

The art-pop singer-songwriter returns with her most engaging and original album.

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“You fucked it up,” Austra says to her ex midway through HiRUDiN. I have no idea who he is or what he did, but clearly she’s better off without him. All it takes is one spin of this magnificent 11-track disc to know that for an indisputable fact. Proving once again that pain can be the greatest inspiration and every end is a new beginning, the operatic Toronto art-pop singer-songwriter has picked herself up, dusted herself off and exacted the best revenge — she’s made the most engaging, vital and ambitious album of her career. HiRUDiN is fuelled and defined by her recent emotional turmoil, its unflinchingly personal lyrics set to rich, strikingly powerful music painstakingly assembled piece-by-piece from a batch of off-the-cuff sessions with a diverse slate of brand-new and exotic collaborators, including classical strings, rising-star ensemble Pantayo and a children’s choir. It’s one of the most beautiful breakup albums you’ll hear this year. He may have fucked things up, but she certainly didn’t.

THE PRESS RELEASE: “Being in a toxic relationship can sometimes feel like being lost in a maze. Every attempt to turn a corner lands you back where you started. HiRUDiN, the fourth album from Austra, is both a bold acknowledgement of such patterns of behaviour and a testament to the power of breaking them. Katie Austra Stelmanis has been better known by her middle name for three albums, 10 years, and countless tours. She wrote, produced, and performed all her own records, occasionally sharing the spotlight with a band to tour live. From the outside, things were going really well for a while: she built a devoted fan base and sold out shows all around the world. However, on the inside, Stelmanis was beginning to feel stagnant and uninspired. “I was losing faith in my own ideas,” she explains. Without realising it, she’d got caught up in a toxic relationship that was tearing her apart. It wasn’t until Stelmanis was ready to face her insecurities that she was able to see a way forward: “My creative and personal relationships were heavily intertwined, and I knew the only answer was to part ways with all of the people and comforts that I’d known for the better part of a decade and start again.” Alongside making changes in her personal life, HiRUDiN saw Austra taking an entirely different, free-spirited approach to making a record. Seeking out all new collaborators, she booked three days of sessions in Toronto with improv musicians she’d never met before. They included two thirds of contemporary classical improv group c_RL, the cellist and kamanche duo Kamancello, kulintang ensemble Pantayo, and a children’s choir. Accumulating a vast and vibrant mass of source material, Austra then holed up in a studio in the Spanish countryside and took a collage approach to sampling, arranging, writing and producing to reveal the songs that would form the album. “I found myself really enjoying the role of producer for this record,” she says, “directing and arranging a very disparate array of parts and people and feeling strong in my own conviction for what I wanted it to sound like.” HiRUDiN additionally saw her work alongside co-producers for the first time, Rodaidh McDonald and Joseph Shabason, and she brought in David Wrench and Heba Kadry to mix and master the record respectively. “It was incredibly liberating and a huge learning process to work with so many different people,” she says. “I felt completely revitalized.”