Tuesday, June 16th, 2009
Now You Like Me How?
Polaris Prize long list announcement and NxNE preview, both featuring Woodpigeon
Mason HastieIf there’s one thing I learned from being on the Grand Jury for last year’s Polaris Prize, it’s that the duties of being a regular jurist are far, far, far, far less stressful. There’s a real burden of responsibility when you’re one of the 11 whose duty it is to choose Canada’s “best album of the year”, forcing you to consider each nominee on the short list objectively, checking as much as possible personal biases towards genre, personality, history, whatever. It’s a lot of work.
And while in theory, the regular jury is supposed to apply that same criteria to their ballots, but it’s more of a free-for-all, some choosing to vote strategically to try and get lesser-known acts some exposure, others opting to ignore more commercially successful artists (though that’s probably the same thing). I took the same approach as in past years – essentially a combination of 85% personal favourites and 15% critical merit – and went with the following picks and rationale:
1) Woodpigeon / Treasury Library Canada & Houndstooth Europa
– one of my favourite albums of 2008, it hasn’t lost any of its winsome charm in the subsequent months. Expansive in scope yet exceedingly intimate-sounding, it’s simple and heartfelt and just beautiful. Dose.ca has an interview with bandleader Mark Hamilton.
MP3: Woodpigeon – “Knock Knock”
MP3: Woodpigeon – “Love In The Time Of Hopscotch”
MP3: Woodpigeon – “Oberkampf”
MP3: Woodpigeon – “Lay All Your Love On Me”
Video: Woodpigeon – “A Moment’s Peace for Mary Christa O’Keefe”
2) Land Of Talk / Some Are Lakes
– I’d originally pegged this as a bit of a disappointment as it didn’t have the same buzzsaw intensity as their debut EP, but in time I’ve realized that the restraint and nuance of the full-length reveals them to be a much more sophisticated band than you might have originally expected. And it still kicks hard when it needs to.
3) Rae Spoon / Superioryouareinferior
– The latecomer, dark horse, call it what you will, I’ve explained how this record from an artist completely unknown to me prior to a few months ago quickly became one whose melodies and emotional content would come to haunt the corners of my brain.
MP3: Rae Spoon – “Come On Forest Fire Burn The Disco Down”
Stream: Rae Spoon / Superioryouareinferior
MySpace: Rae Spoon
4) Bruce Peninsula / A Mountain Is A Mouth
– That the recorded artifact even comes close to capturing the intensity of the live Bruce Peninsula experience should earn it some sort of prize. That it dropped a couple of spots where I might have placed it a few months ago is more testament to the quality of the competition than a slight on the record itself.
5) Metric / Fantasies
– This one might surprise some people who know I’m not even remotely a rabid Metric fan, but I’d be lying if I said that Fantasies didn’t have some of the best hooks and choruses of any record from any country this year. Spinner.ca, North Country Times and Decider have features.
And to my surprise, all five of my picks made the official long list, announced yesterday, which means that not only can I rest easy knowing that my tastes broadly align with the rest of Canada’s music critics (or maybe I should despair of that?) but that I now no longer need to do anything between now and the official ceremony in late September, when I will have to help myself to cheese and crackers. The short list of ten finalists will be unveiled on July 7, and I’m not going to speculate as to how many of the above choices will still be standing when the dust settles there. Hopefully at least a couple, so I have someone to root for.
I don’t know if the timing of the Polaris long list announcement was deliberately set to coincide with the start of NXNE this week, but it certainly makes my segue easier. I took an early pass at the lineup a while back, and now that the schedule has mostly worked itself out, my picks for the week are becoming somewhat clearer. Each night would seem to have what I’ll call an “anchor” act for me to either plan around or use as a starting point for the evening. Thursday night at 10PM at Neutral for Austin’s Ume, Friday at the Dakota at 8PM for Coeur De Pirate, with whom Singing Lamb has an interview, and Saturday at the Horseshoe, 9PM, for the aforementioned Woodpigeon.
Options for the Thursday night include Kensington Prairie at C’est What or The Balconies at the Drake for 9PM, Kittens Ablaze at the Rivoli or Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head at the El Mocambo at 11 and probably The Darcys at midnight.
With Coeur De Pirate being an early show, Friday is kind of wide open. Will almost certainly hit up Parlovr at Supermarket at 9, hope Swedes via Ireland Kill Krinkle Club are better than their name at Holy Joe’s for 10 and if not, there’s The Superstitions playing just downstairs at the Reverb. The UK’s Koogaphone have piqued my interest for 11PM – they’re upstairs at the El Mocambo – and seeing as how I’ve meant to see Provincial Parks for some time now, midnight at Rancho Relaxo seems as good an opportunity as any. 1AM will probably send me back to the Reverb for Parallels, though having The Sadies at the El Mocambo at the same time is about as sure a bet as you can get.
Saturday starts at the Horseshoe for Woodpigeon, and while staying at the ‘Shoe for NXNE for the stacked CBC-sponsored lineups is always an option, I will likely head to Bread & Circus to see Caledonia – though they didn’t make the long list, they got some substantial last-minute Polaris nomination buzz. Speaking of buzz, Band Of Skulls is getting enough that I’ll likely check them out at the El Mocambo but staying at Bread & Circus – with their lovely bright lights – for Olenka & The Autumn Lovers is also an option. Post-midnight is still entirely up in the air – suggestions are welcome, though they’d have to compete against the “go home and go to sleep” option, which is always a compelling one.
And if the official showcases aren’t enough to keep you busy, there’s always the unofficial ones, which generally take the form of in-stores. I haven’t seen anything slated for Sonic Boom, which is a bit unusual, but Criminal Records has a nice little lineup this week – Apostle Of Hustle at 7PM tonight, Said The Whale and The Daredevil Christopher Wright on the 19th, starting at 6PM.
As mentioned before, Ohbijou are doing an in-store at Soundscapes on Wednesday, June 17 at 7PM to mark the release of Beacons, a record you can probably expect to see me talking about when I do my Polaris Prize writeup for 2010. They talk to CBC Radio 3 and The National Post about the new album. They’ll also do a full show at the Opera House on June 25 – still have passes and prizes to give away for that.
Someone obviously thinks I need to visit Montreal again. Today, Pop Montreal, taking place September 30 to October 4, revealed their initial lineup and as rumoured, the list includes the likes of Dinosaur Jr, Chairlift, Destroyer and the Dalai Lama (what?) – all fine acts, but their presence in Montreal almost certainly augurs a trip down the 401 to Toronto within a day or two. But more compelling is the addition to Osheaga (August 1 and 2) of Yeah Yeah Yeahs. When the initial lineup was announced and it was obvious they were importing chunks of All Points West’s roster wholesale, I bemoaned the fact that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs weren’t among them. Well apparently it was just a matter of time, because now with them and Elbow performing along with The Decemberists and Lykke Li amongst a host of others – and the fact that until V gets their act together and gives me a reason to head up to Orillia – 2009 is looking festival-free and that simply will not do.
Tags: Apostle Of Hustle, Balconies, Band Of Skulls, Bruce Peninsula, Caledonia, Coeur De Pirate, Darcys, Daredevil Christopher Wright, Dog Day, Handsome Furs, Kensington Prairie, Kill Krinkle Club, Kittens Ablaze, Koogaphone, Land Of Talk, Metric, Natalie Portman's Shaved Head, NxNE, Ohbijou, Olenka & The Autumn Lovers, Osheaga, Parallels, Parlovr, Pop Montreal, Provincial Parks, Rae Spoon, Sadies, Said The Whale, Superstitions, Ume, Woodpigeon