Well, the big day has come. The 2011 Polaris Prize will be handed out later tonight. You can catch the broadcast streaming on the Much Music website (video) and CBC Radio 3 (audio only, but with a running commentary from hosts) starting at 5pm PST.

To me, The Suburbs by Arcade Fire is the standout album to win. Native Speaker by Braids, Feel It Break by Austra, Kaputt by Destroyer, and New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges by Colin Stetson are all close behind and any one of these four could take the prize if the jury opts for something other than The Suburbs.

And now, a quick recap on the 10 Short List albums along with my thoughts on each:

The Suburbs by Arcade Fire

In my books, front to back this is the best crafted album of all on the Short List. The musical and lyrical echos used throughout tie it all together. It’s hard to find artistic fault with this one (and being “too popular” and having won the Grammy for Album of the Year totally doesn’t count).

Feel It Break by Austra

I might not have given this a second listen had it not made the Short List, but it has grown on me. The critics seem to love this album. I think it has some great singles but it’s a bit rough around the edges as a complete collection of work.

Native Speaker by Braids

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but this album reminds me of something. I think it’s that I hear a bit in the drumming that makes me draw comparisons to the Acorn. Hailing from Calgary, Braids has put together an album that sounds more like it has roots in the scene of Montreal or Toronto. While I wasn’t blown away by the album, I wasn’t disappointed in it either; overall I rather enjoyed it. Native Speaker (or Austra’s Feel It Break) might just be the happy compromise that the jury will settle on this year.

Kaputt by Destroyer

People seem to be divided by Destroyer; either you love it or hate it. I think Kaputt sounds like a cruise boat stuck in the 80s while simultaneously floating through space, and I love it. (Truth be told, I’m a longtime fan of the eccentric Dan Bejar.) The album’s closing track, “Bay Of Pigs”, is an 11 minute album unto itself. Since the divide on this album seems to be so great, it may be difficult to sway enough jurors to vote for this one.

Tigre et Diesel by Galaxie

This album is the reason the Polaris Prize is so great. Being situated on the west coast, I find it extremely difficult to discover the albums coming out of Quebec each year. Even specifically hunting down this album (or even Karkwa’s album Les Chemins De Verre, even after it won the 2010 Polaris Prize) was a next to impossible task. Without Polaris, artists like Galaxie, Karkwa, and Malajube might otherwise fall through the cracks and go unnoticed to a large portion of this country.

I find the rest of the 2011 Short List t0 be sonically “dark” and Galaxie’s bright poppy Tigre et Diesel is a a real standout from that. (The same can be said for Hey Rosetta’s nominated album Seeds). Unfortunately I don’t see the jury voting for this one, but it was a great listen.

Seeds by Hey Rosetta!

As much as I love the album Seeds, I don’t think it’s going to take home the Polaris Prize this year. While the album shows some steps ahead for the band, I think it still sounds like the album you’d expect from Hey Rosetta! and there’s nothing really groundbreaking here. The track “Yer Spring” is amazing though, and “Bricks” is greatly under appreciated. Got take a listen to these.

Long Player Late Bloomer by Ron Sexsmith

Long Player Late Bloomer is a pretty harmless album, and it sounds like something my mom might like. I have a great respect for Ron Sexsmith, and it would be nice to see someone as hardworking as him have a major success like winning the Polaris Prize, but there’s nothing here that grabs me musically.

New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges by Colin Stetson

This is another polarizing album on the Short List (har har, see what I did there?) with reviews ranging from heralding it as a masterpiece of technical genius to saying that it’s hard to “get” what people like about the sound of “mechanical whales humping”. (Yes, someone actually said that.) This is another album I wouldn’t have discovered had it not been nominated for the Polaris Prize, and I think it’s just spectacular. I can see that there is a bit of a learning curve the average listener might have to scale in order to fully appreciate this album though, and this might sway the jury to vote for something a bit more accessible.

Creep On Creepin’ On by Timber Timbre

Most seem to have brushed this album off as not having any chance to win the prize, which is too bad. I suggest that everyone goes and takes a few more listens to this one; the opening track “Bad Ritual” is kind of amazing.

House Of Balloons by The Weeknd

There’s something I don’t quite get about Abel Tesfaye, the 21 year old behind the album House Of Balloons. This album was only released online, only as a free download, and seems to have made it on the Polaris Short list largely due to influential buzz from blogs. Prior to this (Tesfaye’s debut album), he had never performed a live show. House Of Balloons actually even made it to the Short List still without seeing anything live out of Tesfaye. When he did announce his debut concert (he has performed only once more since then) it was asked that no press be in attendance and that concert goers not bring any sort of cameras or recording devices. (Clearly, people didn’t listen.) On top of that Tesfaye has declined to perform at the Polaris Prize Gala tonight. I have two theories: either this is all a childish game of playing hard to get to build hype around the release, or Tesfaye has absolutely no interest in being involved in the music scene.  Either way, the Weeknd has pretty much lost me as a potential fan. Oh, and I did (surprisingly) enjoy the album after I forced myself to listen to it, particularly the tracks “What You Need” and “Wicked Games”.

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