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Friday, June 8th, 2007

Widths And Curves

So right now everything is all NxNE but there’s another Canadian industry type thingie going on right now with initial nominations for the 2007 Polaris Music Prize wrapping up this evening. Music writers from across the country are nominating their five best Canadian albums from the past year (June 06 to May 07) and the results will be distilled into a 10-record shortlist to be announced July 10 and the final winner to be announced at a gala on September 24.

I got caught a bit flat-footed last year, realizing when I went to compile my list that I actually had very few qualifying Canadian albums in my collection (my favourite releases were mostly EPs which aren’t eligible) so I swore that for 2007, I’d have a much deeper pool of Cancon that I’d be familiar enough with to choose from. Well, it’s a funny thing about plans… I definitely listened to more Canadian music this past year, both because I made and effort and because a lot of what came out was too good to pass by regardless of country of origin, but when I sat down to assemble my list, I was again left a bit more frustrated than I’d expected. Land Of Talk won’t be releasing their full-length until the Fall at earliest. Same for The Acorn, though if they’d put out Blankets! and Tin Fist as a single release instead of two EPs they’d be a slam dunk nomination. And Basia Bulat’s Oh My Darling, though out in Europe, still doesn’t have a Canadian release and is thus ineligible. Grr.

But even so, my biggest problems were trying to decide which records to exclude rather than trying to find enough records I could get behind to fill out my five (as was the case last year). Particularly difficult was trying to rank them in order of preference, something I generally abhor when compiling lists. But it had to be done and when the dust settled, this is what went into the Polaris Music Prize supercomputers for crunching:

1. Ohbijou / Swift Feet For Troubling Times
2. Feist / The Reminder
3. Great Lake Swimmers / Ongiara
4. Arcade Fire / Neon Bible
5. The Besnard Lakes / Are The Dark Horse

A list that I can happily put my name on, I think. The Ohbijou might seem like a bit of a dark horse number one (no matter what the Besnard Lakes might think) but I can’t think of a Canadian band and record that has come out of nowhere (in my world anyway) to so utterly beguile me more in the past 12 months. The Feist record, though I haven’t done a formal review (and may not because really, do we need more?), has been an entirely satisfying follow-up to Let It Die, a record that set the bar pretty damn high to begin with. The same can be said for the Great Lake Swimmers record, which I expected to be superb and which mostly is. The Arcade Fire I went back and forth on a bit, admittedly with part of the thought process being “do I really need to nominate such an obvious record?” – a no no criteria as far as the official rules go, by the by – but after giving it another listen the other day, it couldn’t be denied that it’s really a very good record. And finally, the Besnard Lakes has been a real grower since I got a copy months ago but like the Arcade Fire, I sat down and gave it a real critical listen this week and yeah. Another really good record.

For the media content of this post, some MP3s and videos from the my nominees.

MP3: Ohbijou – “Misty Eyes”
MP3: Ohbijou – “Steep”
MP3: Great Lake Swimmers – “Your Rocky Spine”
MP3: Great Lake Swimmers – “I Am A Part Of A Large Family”
MP3: Arcade Fire – “Black Mirror”
MP3: The Besnard Lakes – “And You Lied To Me”
Video: Ohbijou – “The Woods” (YouTube)
Video: Feist – “My Moon My Man” (YouTube)
Video: Feist – “1 2 3 4” (YouTube)
Video: Great Lake Swimmers – “Back Stage With The Modern Dancers” (YouTube)

Paste, The Washington Post and The Hartford Courant talk to Feist. Spinner also has video from a session she performed for their DL program.

The New York Daily News has an interview with Great Lake Swimmers’ Tony Dekker. NPR will be broadcasting a Swimmers’ show from Philadelphia live at noon today.

The Denver Post has a pretty extensive interview with Land Of Talk’s Elizabeth Powell.

Paste declares Miracle Fortress, whose Five Roses nearly made my top five, their band of the week. Maybe I’ll regret passing it by in a few months – we’ll see. Miracle Fortress is at the Whippersnapper Gallery on June 23.

Hillside has released a list of around 50 bands who will be performing at the festival this year, scheduled for July 27 through 29 in Guelph. While the big names in the lineup were rather underwhelming, the rest of the lineup is – as expected – very solid.

Pitchfork offers up some details on the forthcoming solo record from Broken Social svengali Kevin Drew – it bears the unbearably but unsurprisingly precious title of Broken Social Scene Presents Kevin Drew, “Spirit If…”, and a release date of September 18.

Harp talks to Leonard Cohen about his current projects, namely working on the new album from girlfriend Anjani and reissuing expanded editions of his first three albums. He’s expecting to release a new album of his own later this year.

The Guardian talks to Emily Haines. She’s at Harbourfront Centre July 25.

Torontoist wraps up their NxNE previews by offering their picks for Saturday night.

And not Can-rock related at all but worth mentioning – Spoon is coming to town in support of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga with a show at the Phoenix on October 15. Tickets will be $21.50. The album is out July 10 and you can check out the first MP3 from it below. Also note that early pressings of the CD will come with a 12-track, 22-minute bonus disc of this and that called Get Nice! – more details at Pitchfork.

MP3: Spoon – “The Underdog”

And also unrelated – my photos from Venice, Italy. A man, a plan, a whole crapload of canals.

By : Frank Yang at 8:24 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. RT says:

    In regards to the Polaris deal, what about Sloan? They arguably put out the most ambitious record of their career, and you have to figure if they were younger and from Montreal, this would have been a huge record. As it was, the album was rock solid and quite likely a better album than the Arcade Fire. There’s also no way anyone should be giving this sort of award to Feist or AF, two artists with albums that sold in the hundreds of thousands if not millions.

  2. Frank says:

    re: Sloan – I can’t speak for any of the other jurors, obviously, but while I applaud the band for doing something as artistically and creatively ambitious as "Never Hear The End Of It", I (ironically) found it to be way too long and wasn’t able to get through it completely very often. I like my Sloan in small doses, I guess. But maybe others will feel different and it’ll make the shortlist? I dunno.

    As for who deserves the award or not, the criteria for the nominations was based wholly on artistic merit – sales do not and cannot enter into the equation, and that’s how it should be. No one is in any position to say who or who does not deserve the prize money based on their financial situation.

    And I don’t think Sloan are doing too badly for themselves, for the record.

  3. alan says:

    Hands down the best release so far this year that would be Polaris-worthy is the Besnard Lakes. I can’t get enough of that record and wish them huuuge success. Whoever woulda thought mixing Beach Boys with early Floyd would sound so good?

    Glad you’re loving the Acorn, I’m sure they’re loving you =)

  4. matthew says:

    I’m still trying to decide what to put on my list…five hours until it’s due, and I’ve whittled my initial list of 140 Canadian albums listened to this past year down to about 10. This is insanely difficult, so I commend you for being able to do it…

  5. Frank says:

    140? Dear lord, my pool of qualifying Canadian stuff that I included in my personal CD collection – not necessarily all the promos and whatnot I got this year – numbered around a dozen.

  6. Mark B. says:

    Man, what am I not understanding about the Great Lakes Swimmers album?

  7. John says:

    Frank…

    How about A Northren Chorus release?

  8. Calum says:

    Tim Hecker hands down. Though that Miracle Fortress record is lovely.

  9. JL says:

    frank, do you have more info about the spoon show, the email from the band’s website indicates doors are at 6pm, show at 6:15? are they doing two shows?

  10. Frank says:

    re: the spoon show – don’t know about those times, but the press release from the bookers in town say doors at 8, so likely regular weeknight show times. Only one show.

  11. hugger says:

    Loved the Venice photos and guide. Am off there (well Italy) on honeymoon for 3 weeks next month.