Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
2009 Polaris Prize Short List nominees announced
David WaldmanSo yesterday was P-Day – the announcement of the short list for the fourth annual Polaris Music Prize – and perhaps the biggest surprise with the results was the fact that there weren’t any surprises. Of the ten, six were previously nominees from years past which, some might say, just shows they’re among the country’s elite artists and while they may well be, I can say personally that few of the final ten albums really stirred me in a significant way – certainly not as much as any of the ones on my final ballot. I should note that between my first ballot and final ballot, I dropped Metric in favour of Coeur De Pirate so my picks are actually not represented at all in the final tally.
But anyways. Perusing the list, all I can think is that I’m glad I was a member of the grand jury last year and not this year because I’d have trouble really getting impassioned about championing any of the nominees – of course, you could argue that would make a more ideal, objective juror, but that’s someone else’s problem this year. And I’ll tell you this – having been in that room, anyone who thinks that they can guess who will walk away with the big cheque this year based on, well, anything at all, is just wrong. It is fascinating what some people like and use as criteria for this stuff, and they’re generally not nearly as adventurous, safe, predictable or random as you might expect.
My thoughts on the nominees are random at best. As mentioned both above and previously, I think the Metric record is a superb pop record – hence its inclusion on my first ballot – but I can’t say it has that ephemeral something special that would make me go to bat for it as the best the country has produced in the past year. The Great Lake Swimmers nomination has a whiff of lifetime achievement recognition about it – even just four albums in – but I also think it’s their best yet so I can get behind that, although its adherence to such traditional song forms may work against it. Same for Plaskett. By the same token, I think that being so untraditional – at least in terms of what people think of as “Canadian music” – might work against Fucked Up and K’Naan. I’m no expert in either hardcore or hip-hop, but enough who are get behind those two records that I will happily accept that they’re outstanding examples of their respective genres. Chad Van Gaalen I’m on record as just not getting the way many others do, and I’ve accepted that and moved on. The Malajube I thought was just okay and not as good as their last nominated record. The rest of the nominees, I have no strong feelings about one way or the other. And that’s my immediate overall reaction to the whole list – just, “huh”.
So yes, here’s the nominees in alphabetical order with some A/V accompaniment. I do feel compelled to point out that since there’s not actually anyone in the band named Elliott Brood, they should probably be filed under “E” rather than “B”. But anyways.
More Polaris commentary at Zoilus, where Carl has a typically insightful look at how and why he thinks Polaris year four shook out the way it did, Exclaim and eye were slinking around the announcement ceremony yesterday, notebooks in hand, talking to whomever and Chart got to talk to Damien Abraham of Fucked Up about the nomination. They’re pictured above not because I’m particularly biased towards them, but because I’ve never used one of their photos before and they are about as much of a dark horse as you’re going to find in the class of 2009. The winner will be chosen on September 21 in a ceremony to be held at the Masonic Temple in Toronto – a different and smaller locale than the Phoenix, where it’s been the last three years. Maybe they’re cutting down on the attendees…? Or maybe just our cheese platters?
But what I find most interesting/ironic about the timing of the Polaris announcement was that it came on the same day as the official release of what was, for my nickel, easily the most interesting, heartfelt and altogether excellent Canadian album of the second half of 2008 and first half of 2009 – Hometowns by The Rural Alberta Advantage. Perhaps you’ve heard of them. They failed to meet the eligibility requirements on account of having made their self-release of the album available for sale via their website and at shows a couple of months before the May 31, 2008 cut-off. This probably netted them a few hundred sales, if even, but cost them a shot at the Polaris, although I did nominate them last year, obviously to no avail. But they’re doing alright – regardless of what you think of Pitchfork, the 8.0 score bestowed upon them yesterday can only help their wonderfully upwards trajectory. In fact, this piece at Hit Singularity uses the band as a case study of how to become a “buzz band”, thankfully in a non-cynical context. Exclaim has a video interview and live performance, The Edmonton Journal an interview and Spinner has an interview as well as a stream of the album. Their label has also made another MP3 available to sample. And if you didn’t think their July 30 show at the Horseshoe was going to be totally sold-out, you’d better think so now.
NXEW interviews Matt Cully of Bruce Peninsula, who surprised some/many by not making the short list – I’ll pin that one on simple geography, as though they made a pretty huge impression on those in their hometown Toronto area, they’re only just now beginning to spread the gospel through the rest of the country.
NPR has a Tiny Desk concert with Julie Doiron, one of the few (?) eligible past nominees who didn’t make the short list. Actually, I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day didn’t make the long list either.
A release date for the second Friends In Bellwoods charity compilation, mentioned last week, has been given a release date of August 25. It’s 40 songs across two CDs and, if you want to stick with the Polaris theme, features no shortage of artists who’ve already been nominated for the prize and plenty more who surely will be in the future – think of it as a snapshot of everything that’s musically great in Toronto right now. Release shows have already been scheduled – a pre-release shin-dig August 19 at the Gladstone, and a two-part party at the end of the month – August 28 at Lee’s Palace and on the 29th in Trinity-Bellwoods Park. Details on performers and whatnot forthcoming.