Next week, the good folks at the Polaris Music Prize will announce the winner of, well, the Polaris Music Prize. The award will be presented at a huge, invite-only, gala event at the Masonic Temple in Toronto. (Don’t worry, Much Music will broadcast live from the award show on September 24, at 1:00 pm, and then again at midnight).
The Polaris Music Prize has been around for six years now, and past winners have included greats like Karkwa, Caribou, Final Fantasy, and Fucked Up. The beauty of the Prize – aside from the fact that it’s 100% Canadian – is that a relatively unknown act can be nominated alongside industry legends.
In July, the 40-strong long-list was cut short to ten notable acts.
As with any contest, there were disappointments. Buck 65’s 20 Odd Years didn’t make the cut; neither did Doug Paisley’s Constant Companion or PS I Love You’s Meet Me At The Muster Station. Canadian heavyweights Neil Young (Le Noise) and Sloan (The Double Cross) were also left on the chop block.
Among the ten who did make the Polaris short list, we have a few favourites. And while we think they’re all talented in their own right, here’s a run-down of who we think will win – and should win.
Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Certainly the most well known on the list, Arcade Fire is a sure bet for the Prize. After a surprise win at the Grammys earlier this year, we can’t say we’re shocked to find this group on the list. And we can’t say that we’d be surprised if they went all the way. But how does their album shape up?
On a synth-heavy list, it’s nice to have a calm, relaxed album. Their sound is popular for a reason: the synth isn’t over-used, frontman Win Butler’s voice is raspy and soothing, and the instrumentals are strong, but not over powering.
Overall, the album as a whole has a “far-away” sound – like a constant, pensive dream state. And we’re totally diggin’ it.
Austra – Feel It Break
This debut album has been receiving tons of great reviews – Clash magazine in the U.K. scored it eight out of ten, while Sonic Seducer magazine out of Germany called the record a “true classic.”
We love frontwoman Katie Stelmanis’ throaty vocals, but can’t seem to get around the synths. They show up on nearly every track, and sometimes are a bit over kill. The simple melodies and long instrumental breaks work in some songs, like ‘Lose It’ (which we can’t get out of our heads), or ‘Beat and the Pulse’.
Still, it’s clear that Stelmanis’ voice is the clear showcase – and it should stay that way.
Braids – Native Speaker
We’d describe Braids’ debut record as alternative, to say the least. The art rock quartet uses a lot of sound collages to fuel their pension for long intros – “Glass Deers” features a 46-second long myriad of sounds, while the first thirty seconds of the first track, “Lemonade”, are of a babbling brook.
It took us a while, but once we got out of our musical comfort zone, Native Speaker wasn’t so bad.
The violin start of ‘Plath Heart’ is wholly unexpected, and Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s vocals are nothing short of lovely – and remind us of early Joni Mitchell. Even ‘Glass Deers’ has a new world, ethereal feel – although you have to get past your own defenses (and two and a half minutes of humming) to get to it.
Destroyer – Kaputt
Destroyer has been around for a while. Kaputt, the ninth studio album by the sometimes-band, sometimes-duo, sometimes-solo, always-fronted-by-Daniel Bejar, is an eight person affair, with contributions from Pete Bourne, Nicolas Bragg, David Carswell, J.P. Carter, John Collins, Joseph Shabason, and Sibel Thrasher.
The album doesn’t overkill on synth, and adds a groovy wah-wah sound, which we like.
We didn’t quite like the ’80s-esque electric guitar that reared its unnecessary head during a few tracks, but thankfully Bejar’s soft vocals made up for it.
The intro for ‘Blue Eyes’ secured our approval. Lyrics to die for, and Bejar’s soft, whispery vocals, are punctuated by a cornucopia of indistinguishable sounds broken by an accenting horn.
Galaxie – Tigre et diesel
The only francophone act to make the short list, Galaxie has also been on the scene for quite some time. Tigre et diesel is their third album, and it is definitely a charm.
We can’t understand most of what they’re singing (we almost flunked grade nine french), but with feel good, bouncy vibes like theirs, who even needs lyrics?
‘Camouflar’ is a strong garage-rock track, but it maintains much of its indie flair, while ‘Piste 1’ mixed everything that was right about The Darkness and Jet.
Hey Rosetta! – Seeds
We usually don’t care for bands with punctuation in their official titles (we also do not believe that the letter “S” can be replaced with a “$”), however, we’re making an exception for Hey Rosetta!
Mostly because they remind us of some of the first shows we went to as high schoolers, but also because we are mad about their mix of guitar, violin, piano, and bad-assedness.
‘Seeds’ has a wonderful mix of power vocals, soothing acoustic guitar, and interesting violin, while ‘Welcome’ is nothing short of thoroughly invigorating from start to end.
The third studio album from the six-piece group shows off how much they’ve grown since their self-titled EP in 2005, but their wonderful energy is as strong as ever.
Ron Sexsmith – Long Player Late Bloomer
Ron Sexsmith has had great reviews for nearly all of his twelve records. Elvis Costello praised his self-titled 1995 release. But the man who has been making folksy albums for two decades now still hasn’t had the same commercial success as many of his artist friends.
However, that doesn’t make him any less talented. His latest release, Long Player Late Bloomer, is a calming blend of warm vocals, subtle harmonicas, and background pianos.
Like every song on the album, the lethargic ballad ‘Michael and His Dad’ puts Sexsmith’s deep vocals in the spot light, where they should be. likewise, opening track, ‘Get in Line’ again showcases Sexsmith’s uniquely familiar vocals, which harmonize beautifully with the country-inspired instrumentals.
Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges
Colin Stetson was born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan. But he now lives in Quebec, which fits perfectly with his alt. jazz sound.
Stetson’s second solo album (he is also a member of the break-out group, Bon Iver) is a highly experimental soundscape. Ranging from wild sax solos, what’s he’s famous for, to odd pitches, to blasting drums, Judges managed to keep us interested from start to finish.
Our favourite song, though, is the title ‘Judges’. After two minutes of a whooping back beat and what seems like a buzzing bug-galloping horse-hybrid, the track dips into nothing before resuming at the same curious place.
But the best part of the song comes at the very end – the last eleven seconds, in fact – where Stetson, in the calmest, most compassionate near whisper ever recorded, asks: “What war was this? What town could this be?”
Timber Timbre – Creep On Creepin’ On
In their bio paragraph on the Polaris website, Emilie Côté of La Presse notes a “beautiful black romanticism” in the Timber Timbre’s (pronounced timber-tamber) fourth album, Creep On Creepin’ On. And we could not agree more.
Ghostly vocals, and full, almost choir-like harmonies are mixed with bashing pianos and screeching violins. The effect is, well, creepy. But, the group takes full comfort in their spooky sound, making it as far from unsettling as puppies and bunny rabbits.
Opener, ‘Bad Ritual’ is eerie and dark, but warm and full, too. Title track, ‘Creep On Creepin’ On’ is a little lighter, and would be much lighter if it weren’t for Taylor Kirk’s cool, smokey vocals.
The Weeknd – House of Balloons
Drake tweeted about The Weeknd’s second album. The opening track on the record (which is available for FREE download on The Weeknd’s site) was featured in the promo for the final season of HBO’s Entourage.
Everyone from Rolling Stone, to the Village Voice, to The Guardian is impressed by House of Balloons.
Stemming from something like R & B, The Weeknd (who is called Abel Tesfaye)mixes old rock with classic hip-hop beats. His vocals are rhythm-ey, but not quite R & B. The best part of the album is that the lyrics could by rapped by some of the head honchos in hip-hop today. But they’re not.
On ‘The Morning’, Weeknd talks about the requiem bitches and money like most rappers, but sings it in a calm, almost lethargic voice, that is so touching even your mom could listen to it (if she didn’t understand the lyrics, anyway). His R & B influence can especially be felt in the instrumentals of his songs, especially ‘Loft Music’.
So who do we want to win? If we could say “all of ’em,” we would. But . . .
Either Timber Timbre or The Weeknd. They each showed the most creative sound and are (sort of) unknown, making a win for them even sweeter. And even though Creep On Creepin’ On and House Of Balloons have some odd, experimental noise on them, we still think it’s a solid enough album to not turn a single listener away.
It’s a tough call between Arcade Fire and Austra. They’ve both had a pretty hefty amount of support behind their albums, which are solid to begin with anyway. But, with the amount of success that The Suburbs have already had, we think the Prize will favour Feel It Break.
Who do you think should/will win? Let us know – drop us a line!