Tag Archive: Polaris


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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It’s been a few days since the Polaris Long List was announced, and I’ve had a chance to let it all sink in. I’ve been asked by a few friends to give an opinion on the Long List, so I thought I’d weigh in here too.

First, let’s take a look at geography. Here’s how the Long List breaks down:

  • Vancouver – 4
  • Rest of the West (Calgary and Winnipeg) – 3
  • Toronto – 14
  • Rest of Ontario – 3
  • Montreal – 11
  • Eastern Provinces – 4
  • International – 1

Nothing should surprise you about this, it’s pretty typical of past Polaris Long Lists. Maybe the International inclusion comes as a surprise, but that’s Neil Young. Exceptions can be made for Neil Young. Perhaps it’s because I’m so close to the Victoria and Vancouver music scenes that I’m personally disappointed in the low turnout from BC. I’m also disappointed that coming off the heels of Karkwa’s win in 2010, only one album on the entire Long List this year is in French.

Geography and language aside, what about the music? I hate to admit it, but aside from maybe The Suburbs by Arcade Fire, there’s no one album on the Long List that really grabbed me. When I look back on this past year, my musical obsessions (the Hold Steady – not Canadian, Japandroids – didn’t release an album in the eligibility period, Explosions In The Sky – not Canadian, Versa – who’s that?) all were not going to make it anywhere near being nominated. Oh there are lots of albums on the Long List that I love and they all deserve to be there, but I didn’t listen to any of them over and over ad nauseum like I did with some of the nominees in 2010. This makes picking my front runners for the Short List really, really difficult.

CBC Radio 3 is once again holding its Polaris Prize Pool, where listeners are asked to name the 10 albums they think will make the Polaris Short List. The entry with the most correct picks from the actual Polaris Short List wins a CBC Radio 3 prize pack. The winner will be announced on July 6th (the day of the Short List announcement), but unfortunately for you it’s now too late to enter. I managed to get in an entry just under the wire; here’s the list I submitted. It’s based largely on what I personally like on the Long List, mixed with picks that have been popular with friends, and albums that have received buzz.

  • Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
  • Braids – Native Speaker
  • Buck 65 – 20 Odd Years
  • The Dears – Degeneration Street
  • Destroyer – Kaputt
  • Diamond Rings – Special Affections
  • Hey Rosetta! – Seeds
  • Hooded Fang – Album
  • Malajube – La Caverne
  • PS I Love You – Meet Me At The Muster Station

This took me forever to put together. I changed it at least 40 times over the couple hours it took me to finalize. I think I’m content with the list though: I managed to include picks from the West, the East, Toronto, and Montreal; I included big names like Arcade Fire and Hey Rosetta! and lesser known names like Braids and Hooded Fang; there’s even a decent representation of genres there with straight up rock, pop rock, 80s inspired dance, and hip hop. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if the actual Short List doesn’t resemble this at all. (With the exception of Arcade Fire that is – I will be absolutely shocked if they are left off the Short List.)

Hopefully my thoughts on the Long List didn’t sound too negative, that was not my intention. To counteract that, let me list some other Long List artists whose releases I really enjoyed:  Women, Shotgun Jimmie, the Rural Alberta Advantage, Black Mountain, Timber Timbre, Stars, Land Of Talk, Luke Doucet and the White Falcon, Imaginary Cities, Sloan, and Young Galaxy. I highly recommend checking out all these albums. (Full disclosure: the albums I didn’t list here are the ones I haven’t listened to yet. I doubt there’s anything on the Long List I’d totally detest.)

There were so many other amazing albums that didn’t make the cut for the 2011 Polaris Long List. Here’s some great albums that didn’t make it:

  • Tokyo Police Club – Champ
  • Mohawk Lodge – Crimes
  • Wolf Parade – Expo 86
  • Treelines – Summer Song EP (This technically wouldn’t have qualified. Why didn’t you boys add two more songs to that release?!)
  • Royal Canoe – Co-Op Mode
  • The Mountains and the Trees – I Made This For You (Long List miss #4 – I was rooting for you Jon!)
  • Kathryn Calder – Are You My Mother?
  • Gonzales – Ivory Tower
  • Chromeo – Business Casual
  • The Meligrove Band – Shimmering Lights
  • Suuns – Zeroes QC
  • Jason Collett – Pony Tricks
  • Hot Panda – How Come I’m Dead?
  • The Gertrudes – Dawn Time Riot
  • Jim Bryson and the Weakerthans – The Falcon Lake Incident (Long List miss #1. This by far is the biggest omission from the Long List. You were robbed Jim!)
  • Jeremy Fisher – Flood (Long List miss #7.)
  • David Vertesi – Cardiography (Long List miss #2.)
  • Henry and the Nightcrawlers – 100 Blows (Long List miss #5.)
  • The Liptonians – Let’s All March Back to the Sea (Long List miss #3.)
  • Memphis – Here Comes A City
  • Mother Mother – Eureka (Long List miss #6. I’m surprised more people aren’t up in arms about this one not making the cut.)
  • Slow Down, Molasses – Walk Into The Sea
  • We Are The City – High School (Another EP that’s technically not qualified, but it’s still great!)
  • Chad VanGaalen – Diaper Island

So what are your picks for the Short List? Any albums from the past year I didn’t mention and should check out? Feel free to post your comments below!

And for more Polaris speculation fun, be sure to check out NxEW’s Shadow Polaris.

Ready, Set, Polaris!

Today marks the beginning of my favourite musical season: the lead up to the Polaris Prize! It’s that time of year when all my nerdy music friends begin fighting debating over the quality of Canadian music releases from the past year. For those unaware, the Polaris Prize is awarded annually to the Canadian album (“album” being defined as a collection of previously unreleased material that is at least 30 minutes of music, or at least 8 tracks long) that exemplifies “creative artistic achievement in recorded music”.

The Polaris Prize Long List was announced at the Drake Hotel in Toronto earlier today. Here’s the list:

Arcade Fire – the Suburbs (Montreal)
Austra – Feel It Break (Toronto)
Black Mountain – Wilderness Heart (Vancouver)
Braids – Native Speaker (Calgary)
Buck 65 – 20 Odd Years (Toronto)
Louise Burns – Mellow Drama (Vancouver)
D-Sisive – Jonestown 2: Jimmy Go Bye Bye (Toronto)
The Dears – Degeneration Street (Montreal)
Destroyer – Kaputt (Vancouver)
Diamond Rings – Special Affections (Toronto)
Dirty Beaches – Badlands (Vancouver)
Luke Doucet and The White Falcon – Street city Trawler (Toronto)
Eternia & MoSS – At Last (Ottawa)
Galaxie – Tigre Et Diesel (Montreal)
Jenn Grant – Honeymoon Punch (Halifax)
Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972 (Montreal)
Hey Rosetta! – Seeds (St. John’s)
Hooded Fang – Album (Toronto)
Imaginary Cities – Temporary Resident (Winnipeg)
Land Of Talk – Cloak and Cipher (Montreal)
Little Scream – The Golden Record (Montreal)
The Luyas – Too Beautiful to Work (Montreal)
Malajube – La Caverne (Montreal)
Miracle Fortress – Was I The Wave? (Montreal)
One Hundred Dollars – Songs Of Man (Toronto)
Doug Paisley – Constant Companion (Toronto)
PS I Love You – Meet Me At The Muster Station (Kingston)
Daniel Romano – Sleep Beneath the Willow (Welland)
The Rural Alberta Advantage – Departing (Toronto)
Ron Sexsmith – Long Player Late Bloomer (Toronto)
Shotgun Jimmie – Transistor Sister (Halifax)
Sloan – The Double Cross (Toronto)
Frederick Squire – March 12 (Sackville)
Stars – The Five Ghosts (Toronto)
Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges (Montreal)
Timber Timbre – Creep On Creepin’ On (Toronto)
The Weeknd – House Of Baloons (Toronto)
Women – Public Strain (Calgary)
Neil Young – Le Noise (Marin)
Young Galaxy – Shapeshifting (Montreal)

The Long List gets cut down to a Short List of 10 nominees on July 6th. The 10 nominees will be invited to the Polaris Prize Gala, where the winner of the $30,000 prize will be announced on September 19th. In addition to the top prize now being $30,000 (it was $25,000 in previous years), new this year is that each nominee on the Short List will receive $2,000.

Previous winners of the prize are: Final Fantasy – He Poos Clouds (2006), Patrick Watson – Close To Paradise (2007), Caribou – Andorra (2008), Fucked Up – The Chemistry of Common Life (2009), and Karkwa – Les Chemins De Verre (2010).

Wow. Arcade Fire. Wow.

In case you didn’t manage to sit through the 3 1/2 hour long telecast and on top of that you’ve managed to avoid all other media outlets up to now, I should tell you: the Arcade Fire’s release The Suburbs won the Grammy for Album of the Year!!!

Here’s my highlights of the announcement of the award and the acceptance speech:

  • Barbara Streisand sounded so confused when she announced that the Suburbs won.
  • The first thing Win Butler said in the acceptance speech was “What the hell?”.
  • Win and Régine said “merci Montreal”. (Was this maybe the first time French was spoken in a major Grammy award acceptance speech? Does anyone remember what Celine Dion said in hers back in the 90s?)
  • Win announced “We’re gonna go play another song, because we like music. So thank you, we’re so happy.” The band then spontaneously launched into Ready to Start without anyone stopping them and without having the audio or video cut off.
  • Win Butler smiled the whole way through the performance of Ready to Start.
  • Via Twitter: “@arcadefire: OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD. Thank you EVERYONE.”

I’m normally pretty uninterested the Grammys, but this was a big, big win for the Arcade Fire. They beat out Eminem, Lady Antebellum, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry for this award. In a couple quick minutes of searching I couldn’t find any exact sales numbers, but I’m willing to bet that the Suburbs was far outsold by all of the other albums in the running. I’m willing to go so far as to guess that if you picked any other nominated album there, it would have sold more than twice that of the sales number of the Suburbs. Now don’t take this the wrong way. The Suburbs is an amazing album and the win is very well deserved, but it was up against albums created by some real American powerhouses.

It will be interesting to see the fallout of winning the award. Already the group has seen some attention. Here’s social media in action folks: The first screenshot was taken around 8:45pm PST, about 20 minutes after the award was announced live. The second screenshot was taken around 12:30am PST, about an hour after the west coast feed of the Grammys had finished. In the course of that time, the Arcade Fire twitter feed managed to attract more than 6,000 new Twitter followers. As of 12:45pm PST today (the day after the Grammys) the follower count is up to 108,512. That’s more than 11,000 new followers in less than 24 hours.

Taken around 8:45pm PST.

 

Taken around 12:45am PST.

Talk of the Polaris Prize for the Suburbs has been circulating pretty much since the day the album was released. Heck, people were talking Polaris for the album even before the official release date, back when the first singles were put to the public. The thing is, the Polaris Prize has normally stayed away from recognizing the more commercially successful and/or internationally recognized albums. Will the jury opt to give their votes elsewhere and possibly keep the Suburbs off the Polaris long list or short list?

To relive some great Arcade Fire moments caught on video and archived on the internet, I’ll refer you to the following links:

The original photos in this post were all taken back in September when the Arcade Fire played the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. You can find the whole set of photos from that night here.

A huge hearty congratulations to the Arcade Fire for this very deserved win!

Karkwa for their album Les Chemins De Verre!!! Félicitations!

Now, can this please have a wider release so we can all run out and buy it??

UPDATE (September 22, 2010):

Karkwa have provided the following reaction to being awarded the Polaris Prize:

“It’s an unbelievable thing to win this prize.  We have a lot of respect for this contest and we think they do it for the right reason (music).  On suit le gala depuis son début, et c’est le prix qui nous touche le plus.” – Karkwa

If you missed the live broadcast stream of the Polaris gala, you can catch the video feed here on MuchMusic. (Psst… if you do a search, you can also find the video from the 2009 Polaris Prize gala! Way to go Much!) CBC Radio 3 has also put together a comprehensive list of their coverage including audio of all 10 performances, exclusive photos and interviews, profiles of all 10 shortlisted albums, and a podcast of the entire broadcast from the night.

The 2010 Polaris Prize

Well, this is it. The 2010 Polaris Prize will be announced this Monday September 20th. Along with the title, one lucky artist or group will receive $20,000 (Canadian, of course).

For the past couple months the folks at CBC Radio 3 have been conducting a poll on listener reaction to who should win the 2010 Polaris Prize. As of writing, their poll shows Dan Mangan taking the popular vote by a whopping 33%, but this is no surprise as he has held a commanding lead pretty much since day 1 of voting. To make things more interesting Radio 3 has been posting predictions from notable Canadian figures such as Sebastien Grainger (prediction: Caribou), Jann Arden (prediction: Tegan and Sara), Minister of Canadian Heritage James Moore (prediction: Tegan and Sara), Alan Cross (prediction: Broken Social Scene), Jeremy Morris of Midnight Poutine (prediction: Karkwa with Radio Radio coming second), Bob Krobauer of Vancouver Is Awesome (prediction: Vancouverite Dan Mangan), Jordan Delic of Aux TV (prediction: Shad), and Randy Bachman (!) (prediction: the Sadies).

If you’re looking to put money down and bet for this year’s Polaris winner, both CHARTattack and Alan Cross of Explore Music have you covered. On Wednesday CHARTattack released their yearly Polaris Music Prize Betting Line. Last year, with mere hours before the gala, they correctly predicted the victory of Toronto hardcore punk band Fucked Up. This year they have the Besnard Lakes down for the win. Alan Cross, the master himself of ongoing new music history, has chimed in with his odds too. Interestingly, he puts the Besnard Lakes in last place and gives the win to Tegan and Sara.

For more insight into this year’s prize, I recommend checking out

  • The Polaris Prize Shortlist in which the authors Gary, Ryan, and Dave have each provided a review for every album on this year’s shortlist. (Note: Despite the title of the blog, these guys aren’t officially associated with the Polaris Prize.)
  • The Broken Speaker which provides reviews for each of the shortlisted albums as well as a couple panel discussions on this year’s prize.
  • radio free canuckistan which provides even more reviews for the ten shortlist albums, as well the chances of winning for each album, and a list of albums that should have made the short list.

If all these predictions weren’t enough for you, I’ll share one more list to keep in mind. The R3-30, the weekly chart show on CBC Radio 3, has compiled the Polaris rankings as if the prize were to be decided by R3-30 chart performance: #10 – Tegan & Sara, #9 – RadioRadio, #8 – Karkwa, #7 – Caribou, #6 – The Sadies, #5 – Dan Mangan, #4 – The Besnard Lakes, #3-#1 – Owen Pallett, Shad & Broken Social Scene.

So who will take the prize this year?

I’ve been liking Karkwa a lot lately. My initial pick was the Besnard Lakes. Tegan and Sara, the Besnard Lakes, Shad, and the Sadies all seem to be the odds-on favourites of the critics. Some people have said they can’t see Dan Mangan taking it, but I think he has a fighting chance. As good as the respective albums are, I would be surprised if past winners Owen Pallett (2006) or Caribou (2008) take the title again. That being said, don’t listen to a word I’ve just written. I’ve guessed wrong for every year but one. In fact, last year I placed Fucked Up as least likely to win. To help you make up your own mind, I’ve put together a playlist of all the songs from shortlisted albums available on CBC Radio 3. Take a listen and judge for yourself!

To find out this year’s winner, tune into the Polaris Prize Gala show streaming live on CBC Radio 3 and Sirius Satellite Channel 86 (audio only) and on MuchMusic (video). The Polaris Prize Gala will be held at the Masonic Temple in Toronto on Monday September 20th at 8pm EST, 5pm PST.

After listening to all ten shortlisted albums, I’ve picked out two of my favourite songs from each. Enjoy!

The Polaris Short List 2010 Mixtape:

Besnard Lakes – Albatross

Besnard Lakes – Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent Pt. 2: The Innocent

Broken Social Scene – Texaco Bitches

Broken Social Scene – Forced to Love

Caribou – Leave House

Caribou – Odessa

Karkwa – Le Bon Sens

Karkwa – Les Chemins De Verre

Dan Mangan – Road Regrets

Dan Mangan – Et Les Mots Croisés

Owen Pallett – Tryst With Mephistopheles

Owen Pallett – The Great Elsewhere

Radio Radio – Dekshoo

Radio Radio – Guess What

The Sadies – Another Year Again

The Sadies – Postcards

Shad – Yaa I Get It

Shad – Keep Shining

Tegan and Sara – Hell

Tegan and Sara – The Cure