Tuesday, September 30th, 2008
Photo by Frank Yang
I’m immensely relieved that Caribou won this year’s Polaris Music Prize for last year’s Andorra, because if he didn’t then I’d have had to find a new post title. Because so confident I was that this is how things would turn out, I’d already committed to… typing it. And I didn’t want to have to hit that backspace key soooo many times.
So there’s your winner. And though I’m sure that some people figured they knew which way my vote was going to go, despite the fact that I’d not really written about the Caribou record at all, it was my top choice for the prize and I’m very pleased that it came through in the end. I detail the specifics on what I thought of each of the nominated albums, through the filter of what the Polaris criteria was supposed to be, after the jump. And here, I’m not really sure what I can write about. Because though as a member of this year’s Grand Jury, I’ve got a lot I’d like to talk about, I’m not actually allowed to do so. What happens in the jury room, stays in the jury room And since I was sequestered away for most of the gala, I didn’t get to see the show either. So. I guess I’ll just cover what I’m allowed to say about the process.
It started on Sunday night with a dinner with all the Grand Jurists, ostensibly to meet and greet each other and have an informal discussion about the nominated albums. What it turned out to be was a very revealing look at where everyone’s inclinations lay, and which albums would be serious contenders and which would likely be saying, “it was an honour just to be nominated”. It was as essential to the process as the official jury session the night of the gala and I think gave everyone the inclination to revisit at least one of the nominated records that they might have thought their minds made up on
Though the mission statement of the prize, to seek the album of the “highest artistic integrity”, is pretty straightforward (if impossible to actually define), everyone’s criteria for picking a winner was obviously different. While my picks for initial balloting was pretty straightforward – what were my favourite eligible albums and in what order? – for the final round, I took the criteria more seriously. Personal biases would be checked as much as possible, but while I definitely analyzed each album more objectively than I normally might, it still came down to a gut feeling. I wanted something that was more than just a good album – they’re all good albums – and that was for lack of a better, less cheesy word, transcendent. Something that was more than just a good example of its respective style or genre. Something that I’d be comfortable having as a sort of ambassador for Canadian music for the next year.
So going into things on Monday night, I already had the top contenders already sorted out – the middle of the pack could certainly jockey back and forth but they likely wouldn’t end up making much of a difference. My mind was pretty much made up what I was going to pull for and I think most everyone else was as well. The actual jury session result was a very interesting (and civil) discussion about each record, but not so much the knock-down, drag-out argument that you might have expected (or hoped for). Working as I do in mostly isolation, it was a really interesting exercise to actually discuss and debate the merits and flaws of the records, getting different points of view in real time. It was like a book club. And it was amusing to have read some of the more conspiracist theories as to what records we might pick and why, based on agendas that had nothing to do with the albums themselves – Give the finger to the Conservatives! Punish the successful label! They don’t need the money! It’s time for a woman! A rapper! A westerner! Blah blah blah. There was more than enough to talk about in just about the music without getting off-topic.
So when we were finally let out of the jury room and a winner selected (though not revealed to us), I managed to catch the very end of the gala and performances from Shad and Holy Fuck, both so good that I was sorry I missed the rest of the proceedings, even for the privilege of being on the Grand Jury. Holy Fuck were also the only act I got any photos of. But being right up front beside Caribou’s table and seeing the shock and disbelief on Dan Snaith’s face when he was announced as the winner was a real treat. And yes, I was feeling quite good and validated in my opinions.
I’m a bit sad that now having done the Grand Jury thing and having wholly enjoying the experience, I know I won’t get to do it again. It was a real pleasure and honour to have been a part of the process, for something that I think has done a fine job of establishing its credibility as a worthy award and has quickly become an important part of the Canadian music machine. Sure, there are complaints about the records that make the short list (or don’t make the short list) or the Polaris process in general, but now having seen how it all works, I can honestly say that its doing its very best and strives to be as open and fair as possible.
Plenty of coverage on Caribou’s win in the media today, but I found this piece in The Guardian, from a UK perspective, particularly interesting. And as mentioned, I only got a handful of photos of Holy Fuck but there’re some more from the end of the gala at my Flickr.