Tuesday, August 12th, 2008
Photo by Marc Rimmer
Those of you inclined to follow such things may have noted that the members of the Grand Jury for this year’s Polaris Music Prize was announced yesterday and you may also have noted that yours truly is there at the bottom of the list. I’m proud to be taking a great step towards respectability for fake media outlets and helping decide whom out of Black Mountain, Basia Bulat, Caribou, Kathleen Edwards, Holy Fuck, Plants & Animals, Shad, Stars, Two Hours Traffic and The Weakerthans will be taking home the giant cheque for $20,000.
You might think you know from my personal tastes how my vote is going to swing, but you might be surprised about where my thoughts are leading. For my ballot that went toward the long and short lists, I just went subjectively with the eligible albums I liked best but for the grand prize, I’m taking the more objective approach and considering the prize’s stated purpose of rewarding the record with the “highest artistic integrity”… and whatever that means, it’s not the same as “I like this one best”. I think. I’m not sure. Anyway, what this all means is that this year, since I’ll be locked in a dark, smoky room with ten others figuring out who gets to be this year’s Patrick Watson, I won’t get to sit in the balcony of the Phoenix with the cream of the Canadian music industry’s b-list (a-list gets tables down on the floor) and snap photos like last year.
But apparently you can – there’s a contest on to give away six passes to the Polaris Gala on September 29 in Toronto. The performers for the gala haven’t been announced yet but I can’t help but notice that Black Mountain, Holy Fuck and Two Hours Traffic all have local shows scheduled around the time of the festivities, while Stars and Kathleen Edwards are on the road and almost certainly no-shows. Either way, it’s a fun night and they have decent cheese and cracker platters in the cheap seats.
So what does this have to do with the handsome group of people in the photo up top? Nothing and everything. That up there is Calgary’s Woodpigeon, whom I first heard of from discussions in the Polaris jurors Google group as being a worthy nominee for last year’s list for their 2007 release Songbook. That prompted be to see their showcase at last year’s Pop Montreal, which I enjoyed quite a bit. And even though their set opening for Calexico back in June was even more impressive, I still wasn’t prepared for how revelatory their new record Treasury Library Canada is.
The first and prevailing impression is – “damn, this thing is pretty”. Listening to the record is like trying to carry on a conversation with an uncommonly attractive person – you want to listen to what they’re saying, to get to know them better, but you can’t help being distracted by just how good they look. Or in this case, sound. And when you finally do manage to pay proper attention, you discover they’re just as interesting, witty and/or charming as you could possibly hope… and you’re smitten.
Orchestral folk-pop at its core, Treasury is a remarkable achievement of songwriting, arrangement and performance. Built around bandleader Mark Hamilton’s soft vocals and stunning harmonies from almost everyone in the band, the eight-piece outfit strike a perfect balance of grandeur and intimacy, delight and melancholy. When things sound like they might get too twee, a well-placed bit of electric guitar toughens things up just enough. I don’t know if Canada really needs its own Sufjan Stevens, but in Woodpigeon we may just have found one – just as delicate but not nearly as precious. But what I do know is that if “7th Fret Over Andres” doesn’t break your heart, at least a little, then you don’t have one. Go see a doctor immediately.
Treasury Library Canada is being released independently by the band – an ambitious move to say the least, and one that I commend them on though I do worry a bit that this might keep the record from reaching as many ears as it deserves, which is to say all of them. They’re selling the album on their website digitally using the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, pay what you can model, digitally via Zunior with a bonus ten track album of rarities called Pixie Children Crying and for old schoolers like myself, as a physical CD though only in limited quantities. Fans of tactile objects, get a move on.
The band have also gained friends/fans in high places – in addition to opening for Calexico on their North American tour, they’ll also be joining them for a string of dates in the UK in September and also support Iron & Wine for a pair of Alberta shows in October. The Calgary Herald has an interview with head ‘Pigeon Mark Hamilton. And to bring it all back home, even though we’re just over two months into the eligibility period for NEXT year’s Polaris prize, Woodpigeon have already got the inside track to one of the spots on my ballot. And if their already in-progress next album Die Stadt Muzikanten, slated for early 2009 release, is anywhere near as good, maybe they’ll have two.
It’s been out since May but I think I only just noticed that Basia Bulat has a 7″ out via Rough Trade featuring the Sam Cooke cover that’s been a staple of her live set, “Touch The Hem Of His Garment”, and on the b-side, an extended version of “Before I Knew” which you’ve probably also heard live.
There’s a new video from Mogwai’s forthcoming release(s) – The Hawk Is Howling, the new album out September 23, and the Batcat EP, out September 9 – that’s just all KINDS of unsettling. They’re at the Phoenix on September 24.
Video: Mogwai – “Batcat”
RCRDLBL has an exclusive first MP3 from The New Year, the new album from The New Year. They also have an interview with Bubba Kadane. The record is out September 9 and they play Lee’s Palace on October 15.
Thanks to Adam for the tip that Frightened Rabbit are finally coming to Toronto! The date is October 21, the venue is Lee’s Palace and the context is as support for The Spinto Band… I don’t know who that is. But Frightened Rabbit! Yeah!
Opening up for Iron & Wine on their Toronto date at the Danforth Music Hall on November 13 will be Blitzen Trapper – those expecting a nice, quiet night are advised to show up a bit late. The Trapper dost get raucous. Full dates at Pitchfork. Blitzen Trapper’s new record Furr is out September 23.