Monday, September 18, 2006

Polaris Music Prize

Later this evening, on top a stage at the Phoenix Concert hall in Toronto, Ontario, in a gala presentation, one lucky band/artist will hear their name announced and walk up to accept acclaim and a $20,000 payday. We're talking about the inaugural awarding of the Polaris music prize. Modelled after the UK's prestigious Mercury prize, the Polaris seeks to be "Canada's first monetary prize for a full-length album based solely on artistic merit, without regard to genre or record sales." I've heard various shades of cynicism in regards to the Polaris since its inception was announced months ago. In my opinion it sounds great. Ten canadian albums were shortlisted as based on the votes of over 100 Canadian journalist/music industry toughs/etc. Aside from the already mentioned merit citeria, a nominee must be a Canadian album released between June 1, 2005 and may 31, 2006. Tonight, one of those albums will claim the prize and reap a decent sized reward. Although it has been over four years in the making, the Polaris comes after a particularly flush year in Canadian music. Following on the previous year's Arcade Fire storm, Montreal becoming the supposed "new" Seattle, etc.. It has definitely been a great couple years for Canadian music in terms of recognition abroad, as well as awareness here at home. Despite this, the Juno's, Canada's answer to the Grammy's, has regularly ignored our nation's most relevant artists, aside from passing accolades in the usual sub-categories. This is due in large part to the fact that the Juno awards are decided largely in part on record sales. The Polaris seeks to recognize and bring attention to those many very relevant Canadian artists who don't sell alot of records. This lack of sales, as we all know, is not any indication at all of the integrity of their respective works.

Below each nominee will get a brief writeup. I'll also leave a song from each artist so you may get an idea what they are all about. The award put out a ten song cd sampler which you should be able to track down at your nearest big box record store. While you are there you may consider picking up the Veronica Mars Season 2 on DVD as an early Christmas present. My neglected studies thank you in advance.

Broken Social Scene - Self-Titled

I think we could easily consider this album the frontrunner. It was very much a highly anticipated album leading up to its release. Although it didn't fail to dissapoint, I would argue it does not compare to it's predecessor, You Forgot It In People. While the success of The Arcade Fire would certainly be considered the spark that ignited the flame in terms of Canadian indie music's critical recognition abroad, atleast on a widescale format. I think we have to recognize that BSS's YFIIP a few years prior really perked up heads. If Broken Social Scene wins, I'd argue its due to the fact that the judges are making up for the fact the Polaris wasn't around when YFIIP first came out. If I were to swap out a nominee, it'd be this album. Who would replace it? Either The Constantine's Tournament of Hearts or The Fembot's painfully overlooked The City.
Buy it on Amazon
Ibi Dreams of Pavement(A better day)

Cadence Weapon - Breaking Kayfabe
One of the two nominated albums that I haven't heard extensively. I don't know too much about Cadence Weapon AKA Oliie Pemberton. This we do know, the man hails from the always underrated Edmonton. He used to write reviews for the indie mecca called Pitchfork (insert self-aware jab at Pitchfork's continuing credibility. This album, his first LP, received a decent rating of 8.0 from his former employer. I'll be the first to admit my knowledge is not broad in regards to the hip hop umbrella Breaking Kayfabe falls under. Limited essentially to genre crossing singles that inspire me to dig out my old PE and Roots records, only to forget about them a few days later until another genre-defying single from a quasi hip-hop band catches my ear. Of the half dozen tracks I've come across, I certainly don't have any complaints. Check it out.
Breaking Kayfabe on amazon
Black Hand

The Deadly Snakes - Porcella
This album from the now defunct Deadly Snakes is my pick for the prize. The fourth album from the Toronto-based band is easily their most dense and beautiful to date. I didn't think anything could top their 2003 release Ode To Joy, however, this release proved me wrong. Billed my many critic's upon it's release as the sound of the Snakes "leaving the garage behind," the album delves into their most ambitious songwriting and sounds to date. Shamefully, the band called it quits a few weekends back. Long a Toronto institution, the Snakes never got the recognition they truly deserve. They don't share the same circle's as the Broken Social Scene and as a result never truly got the recognition outside of Toronto and parts of Canada that they deserve. The band is beyond highly recommended.
Porcella on amazon

Final Fantasy - He Poos Clouds
Possibly my second choice for an album I'd replace with The Cons or Fembots. Final Fantasy is Owen Pallet. Known for his contribution to Arcade Fire's Funeral. Universally loved by bloggers. Personally he doesn't do much for me. Also, the name of the album just causes me to cringe.
He Poos Clouds on amazon
Artic Circle

Sarah Harmer - I'm A Mountain
It is hard not to fall in love with Sarah Harmer. The Kingston-based singer has been around since long before I was aware. Conscious and ever-evolving, the latest album finds Sarah simply reveling(I am Aglow)as well as reflecting on the destruction of her homeland (Escarpment Blues). It has a rootsy feel that is instantly inviting. Bought this album for my father for Christmas and he's a fan. Promptly stole said album from father. Thus continuing my giving yet truly receiving gift giving strategy.
I Am Aglow on amazon
I Am Aglow

K'naan - The Dusty Foot Philospher
The second album I'm not overly familiar with. This solidifies the apparent hip-hop bias more than apparent in my record collection. Up until a few hours ago, I had heard of but never heard any K'naan. After downloading a few tracks i am seriously resigned to picking up his album tomorrow/today. Really cool hip-hop. Good beats, cool lyrics. What else can my limited knowledge state. I guess that is the inherent beauty of Polaris: That simply by its inclusion, one might find him/herself inspired to pick up an album they might not regularly check out.
The Dusty Foot Philospher on amazon
If Rap Gets Jealous

Malajube - Trompe L'Oeil
Case in point of the previous statement lies Malajube. Based out of Montreal I believe, I picked this album up about a week ago based purely on its Polaris nomination. The album is sung purely in French, a language, despite our nation's bilingual status, is still completely foreign to me. French class, was officialy my least favourite subject in public school. When i was at the record store, the clerk, noticing my selection, attempted to engage me in a conversation in "Qubecois." Noticing the tell-tale confused expression of a non-French speaking individual when prompted with a conversation starter in our nation's second official language, she asked "you realize this is completely in French." I was more than aware. Despite the fact I cannot understand a single word being sung, it has to be said it sounds great.
Trompe L'oeil on amazon
Montreal -40

Metric - Live It Out
Aside from the two albums, previously stated, that I do not own or have listened to substantially, my least favourite album of the ten nominees would have to be this one. While Metric may put on a respectable live show, their recorded work leaves something to be desired. Although the album is initially satisfying, prolonged listening inspires you to lose the album among your collection. I don't think I've listened to Metric's second LP since a month after its release. If the new new-wave trend is your thing then you are bound to love metric. If bands like The Killers initially satisfy you, yet leave you suspicious and weirdly unfulfilled, then you may very well agree with me on this one.
Live It Out on amazon
Monster Hospital

The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema
The third album from Vancouver-based supergroup The New Porn. We could realistically call it a collective but everyone save our mother is in a collective these days. The common detraction, as always accompanying a new New pornographers disc, is the fact that there is never enough Neko. Neko Case, in this, uh, case. I truly believe this album to be their finest to date. In the past I've maligned the new porn's records for being like cheap strawberry bubblegum, ie. sweet, but too sweet. This album is the first where the band, Carl Newman's brain child, is able to bust out their perfect pop tunes and not leave the listener dissatisfied with the gum's unwillingness to maintain it's flavour. They have truly stumbled upon the perfect formula. As it is with any Broken Social Scene release, you're never too sure when Newman and Co, will grace your ears again with new material. You're best taking what you can, when you can. That said, what an offering.
Twin Cinema on amazon
Sing Me Spanish Techno

Wolf Parade - Apologies To The Queen Mary
While BSS's self-titled may have been the most anticipated, Wolf Parade's intial LP was certainly the most hyped. Everyone in the blogosphere and in the mainstream press was touting this baby months before it came out on Sub Pop, due in part to the Montreal hotspot buzz and the fact Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock was the one who "discovered" the band. When it finally dropped, we found it to be well worth the wait. Its appealing and fun on its initial listenings. The strength of the album only grows with subsequent listens.
Apologies... on amazon
I'll Believe In Anything

Stay tuned tomorrow. We'll do a wrap up post with reaction and commentary.


Is there anyone better said...


Dewick said...

I saw this on amazon the other day, but didn't know that the winners hadn't been picked. Hard to pick a favourite, but I'll be pleased if either New Porn, Wolf Parade or Deadly Sssssnakes win. I don't know much about the others, aside from BSS and Metric, which I both find lacking in depth.

dewick said...

That BSS song is, on second consideration, quite good. But 'Fire'd Eyed Boy' is annoying.