Thursday, July 7th, 2011
High For This
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2011 Polaris Music Prize short list
FacebookWhen the Polaris Prize long list was announced three weeks back, the general response was positive. After all, forty albums is pretty inclusive and many genres and regions were represented; pretty good cause for back-patting. But when you whittle it down to the final ten, things inevitably get contentious – so with the announcement of the 2011 short list yesterday, there were the inevitable complaints that so-and-so was robbed, such-and-such is underrepresented, etc etc. Six years in, it’s all pretty predictable if you think about it.
And as such, I personally wasn’t especially surprised with the results – after all, I did tie for first in an impromptu prediction pool amongst jurors and Polaris-spotters with eight out of ten right, and I would have gotten nine if I’d stuck with my initial instincts about the Maritime bloc. As for the two I got wrong, I’m disappointed but not wholly surprised that Sloan didn’t make the cut – continuing their career trajectory of being simultaneously adored yet taken for granted. I was, however, genuinely surprised that The Rural Alberta Advantage got passed over – though they barely missed my ballot, I thought that there’d have been enough goodwill banked from Hometowns being ineligible in the year it got wide release to carry over to Departing, but I guess not. They’ll have to settle for being generally adored. Tough life. But my picks didn’t necessarily reflect what I thought were the most deserving – note only two of my ballot entries appear on the short list – but based on pretty reliable patterns observed over the course of Polaris’ existence. We’re all just algorithms in a giant cosmic computer, maaaaaan.
As for the albums that made the cut?
Arcade Fire / The Suburbs
Well this one was a gimme; the question really is will the Suburbs-sized elephant in the jury room end up costing the band and give proof to the accusation that the Polaris punishes success? Not a lock, but if the winner comes back as anything else, people are going to want some explanations as to how and album pretty much universally feted would be deemed inadequate (relatively speaking) at home. By being heavily favoured, they are probably the biggest underdogs on the list. Oh, Canada.
Video: Arcade Fire – “The Suburbs”
Austra / Feel It Break
I figured this, Diamond Rings, Young Galaxy and Miracle Fortress would split the synth-pop vote – no way would more than one of them make the short list – and was certain that when the votes were counted, Austra would have come out on top. It strikes the right balance of weird and accessible and you can dance to it. It give it long, long odds to win but its presence here is an achievement.
MP3: Austra – “Lose It”
Braids / Native Speaker
I’ve tried, but I just can’t get into this record. But I can’t stand Animal Collective either, so I’m just not predisposed to appreciate what Braids do, and that’s fine. I’ll probably try again before all is said and done, but don’t expect any Damascene moments. I don’t think it will win, but I didn’t think that people would lose their minds for it as much as they have so I won’t say it couldn’t upset.
MP3: Braids – “Lemonade”
Destroyer / Kaputt
For an album as smooth and laid back as it appears to be, Kaputt has turned out to be remarkably polarizing, but that said it was also pretty much a lock – criticize what it is if you will, but there’s really no denying the degree of vision and craftsmanship that has gone into this record. I think if any record could win without instigating an Arcade Fire backlash debate, it’s this one. If I were on the grand jury, which I’m thankful I won’t be, I’d be championing this one.
Galaxie / Tigre et diesel
The question was which of this or Malajube would take the Francophone vote – I didn’t see both making it – and rather than let Malajube three-peat as shortlisters, they went with the fresh(ish) faces. And I’ll be honest, I hold a grudge against this band because they went by Galaxie 500 for far longer than is acceptable. That’s just wrong.
Video: Galaxie – “Piste 01”
Hey Rosetta! / Seeds
This is a band whom I get what they do, get how it inspires such adoration from so many, but doesn’t really do much for me. But their upwards trajectory is undeniable – they’ll be doing the theatre circuit very soon, just watch – and being past shortlisters and the most probable consensus pick amongst jurors from out east, I really should have known better than to take them off my list of predictions. Another record that I will revisit to see what I missed the first time around.
Video: Hey Rosetta! – “Young Glass”
Ron Sexsmith / Long Player Late Bloomer
No doubt there’s a whiff of lifetime achievement about Sexsmith’s inclusion, but his profile hasn’t been higher than it is now in years thanks to the documentary film and the Luminato tribute and thanks to his remarkably consistent songwriting, you couldn’t argue that this record is any less deserving than his others. And maybe people just want to see what it’d take to make the man smile.
Colin Stetson / New History Warfare Vol. 2 – Judges
Easily the most left-field shortlisted album in the prize’s history, I don’t get New History Warfare at all. But then I don’t get hardly anything about where it comes from and what it’s about, so that’s okay. I do know that Stetson has an incredible pair of lungs and the record is an astonishing physical feat, but on the topic of its musicality, I defer to those more qualified to pass judgement. And it’d be kind of awesome if it won if just for the coast-to-coast head scratching that would surely ensue.
Timber Timbre / Creep On Creepin’ On
I know a lot of people who think Timber Timbre should have won in 2009, even though they didn’t even make the short list, so with a – in my judgement – better album in hand and a much stronger national profile, I’m not at all surprised it made the cut this time. I think it’s still a little genre/weird to garner the necessary broad grand jury support to really make a run, but Polaris tends to be predictably unpredictable so maybe they should have the inside track.
The Weeknd / House Of Balloons
Another record that comes from a separate musical world from the one I usually inhabit, but one that got my attention from the first listen. A little hip-hop, a little r&b, a little indie rock and a lot sexy and moody – though not necessarily sexy moody – it’s definitely noteworthy and probably deserves its placement. And it’s got that whole mysterious identity and album-for-free (click above) thing going for it.
So my overall prediction for the night of September 19? I think the jury will for maybe the first time do the obvious thing let Arcade Fire take it. Failing that, Destroyer. And if not one of those two, then all bets are off.
Colin Stetson will get to see if a Polaris appearance translates into concert attendance when he plays The Drake on August 26, tickets $12 in advance. The Georgia Straight and Montreal Gazette have interviews.
Austra are releasing a new remix album entitled Sparkle on August 23 on vinyl, later this month digitally.
Video: Sloan – “Unkind”
PS I Love You have announced the release of an odds-and-sods compilation entitled, descriptively enough, Figure It Out: A Collection of Singles and EPs by PS I Love You and it’ll be out August 30. It will be followed by an extensive North American tour that includes a date at Toronto’s Great Hall on October 1. Full dates and track listing at aux.tv and yes, it’s that “Subdivisions”.
Dan Mangan has announced a September 27 release date for his new album Oh Fortune and is giving away the title track from said record below. And if you need more, Herohill has posted videos of a living room show Mangan performed in Halifax a couple months ago.
If you’re looking for something to do over the August long weekend, you may not need to look further than The Great Hall and Toronto Underground Cinema; that’s when those venues will host over three nights the inaugural Out Of The Box Festival, featuring a slew of the city/province’s up-and-coming acts including personal faves and bands to watch Olenka & The Autumn Lovers, Ruby Spirit, Heartbeat Hotel and Foxes In Fiction to name but a very few. Admission is $10 at the door, $15 for a weekend pass and the schedule will be forthcoming soon.
Hamilton dreampop veterans A Northern Chorus called it a day back in Summer 2008, but have regrouped for a couple of shows next month, one in Hamilton at The Casbah on August 12 and one at The Garrison in Toronto on August 13.
And speaking of good things that come from The Hammer, Supercrawl has announced the first wave of their muscial lineup for September 10, and it includes the likes of Broken Social Scene, J Mascis and The Megaphonic Thrift, amongst many others. And oh yeah, it’s all free.