Derrick BelchamIt figures that the first year that I would have been able to actually attend the long-list unveiling for the Polaris Music Prize, they up and move it from its usual home atop the Drake clear across the country to give Vancouver a taste of what the grand unveiling of the 40 albums selected as the top musical achievements in Canada over the past 12 months is like. But that’s alright because as it turns out, this was also the first year that I don’t need to make any changes to my ballot as all five of the records I submitted have made it onto the long list so unless I have some massive change of heart about which record is more artistically achieving than another, my role in this year’s Polaris is done.
Which is a surprise because at the start of this year’s eligibility period, I’d have only been able to predict one – maybe two – of my nominations. One of them I’d have sworn I’d never get behind and one I’d never even heard of. And yet. That said, the long list itself is simultaneously one of the most varied in recent memory, from a stylistic and profile point of view, and also one of the most predictable if you’ve been privy to the internal discussions of the 200+ jurors (or at least the ones who participate in the Google group). In any case, nows the time for forty artists to enjoy their time in the large-ish spotlight, send out press releases and update their Wikipedia pages; the short list is announced on July 17 and that, I’m far less confident in my ability to predict. Then, come September 24, there will only be one.
And as I do every year, here are what made my final ballot and why. There was more indecision and last-minute jockeying than there usually is, but I’m pretty comfortable with my picks and also with the fact that two of my three runners-up also made the long list. What can I say, this was just the year that I was wholly in sync with the zeitgeist or something.
1. Fucked Up / David Comes To Life
As with Arcade Fire’s eventual champion The Suburbs last year, this one felt like a no-brainer for the number one slot if for no other reason than it aspired to more, artistically, than most of its peers and arguably succeeded far more than it fell short. Certainly, questions abound: Does the rock opera narrative hold up? Is it hardcore anymore? Will this be the year an artist finally repeats as Polaris champ? To these questions, I have no answer, but I do know this: those guitar riffs friggin’ shoot for the moon.
MP3: Fucked Up – “The Other Shoe”
MP3: Fucked Up – “Ship Of Fools”
MP3: Fucked Up – “A Little Death”
MP3: Fucked Up – “Queen Of Hearts”
Video: Fucked Up – “Turn The Season”
Video: Fucked Up – “The Other Shoe”
Video: Fucked Up – “Queen Of Hearts”
2. Yamantaka//Sonic Titan / YT//ST
I fully expected to hate this band and this record. I mean, how much more pretentious can you get than a bio like, “the pan-Asian cultural collective, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan has crafted a debut LP that sets new standards for the creative heights and satisfactions of genre fusion. They call it Noh-Wave”. And yet that may very well be what they’ve done. Within it’s barely-qualifying seven tracks (really six) and 30 minutes, there’s incredibly deft moves through rock, metal, no-wave, and jazz, all with a genuine Eastern flavour that’s more than just affectation; by rights, it should collapse under the weight of its conceit but instead it soars. It’s operatic, metallic, exotic, and fantastic.
Video: Yamantaka // Sonic Titan – “Hoshi Neko”
Stream: Yamantaka // Sonic Titan / YT//ST
3. Bry Webb / Provider
Never the biggest Constantines fan, I didn’t have much in the way of expectations of their frontman’s solo career, and with its low-key production and ruminations on age and family and life, Provider doesn’t seem like it’s necessarily expecting you to expect much from it. And yet it’s an unquestionably powerful and resonant work, with Webb’s rich, rasp of a voice proving to be just as effective – if not more – in a conversational tone as it was as a defiant bark.
MP3: Bry Webb – “Rivers Of Gold”
4. Patrick Watson / Adventures In Your Own Backyard
I will refer you back to this post in order to fully appreciate how remarkable I must think Adventures is for it to be on my ballot. And really, he’s not doing anything substantially different than he’s done on his earlier records – elegantly arranged and executed art-pop that’s content to just be lovely. And that he’s dialed down the fussiness a bit and dialed up the beauty a lot has apparently been enough to win me right over.
MP3: Patrick Watson – “Words In The Fire”
MP3: Patrick Watson – “Into Giants”
Video: Patrick Watson – “Into Giants”
5. Kathryn Calder / Bright & Vivid
I liked Calder’s first record a lot and loved her second, and yet was reluctant for a long while to put it on my ballot. Why? Because it’s pop music – pure and simple – without any particular stylistic angle or backstory, and pure pop is frequently dismissed or denigrated for aspiring to nothing more than creating indelible, earwormy melodies. Well you know what? That’s an incredibly hard thing to do, and to do it as well as Calder does on just her second time out? That deserves recognition.
MP3: Kathryn Calder – “Who Are You”
Video: Kathryn Calder – “Turn A Light On”
Video: Kathryn Calder – “Who Are You”
Plants & Animals have released a new video from The End Of That. Their NXNE schedule puts them at Yonge-Dundas Square tonight at 8:30PM for a free show.
Video: Plants & Animals – “H.C.”
NOW and The Ottawa Citizen talk to Yamantaka//Sonic Titan as they gear up for NXNE; they’ll be at The Garrison tonight at 12AM, will play an in-store at Sonic Boom on Saturday at 3PM and if you’re still up and about late Saturday night, maybe you’ll need a soundtrack for some nachos…
Toronto’s METZ – who have been fixtures around the city seemingly forever – have finally announced details of their debut full-length, which is still untitled but will be out on October 9 via Sub Pop. They talk to Exclaim about it, and will be at Wrongbar tonight and The Phoenix opening for Archers Of Loaf tomorrow.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian, City Arts, Denver Westword, Washington City Paper, Willamette Weekly, The Phoenix New Times, and Vice discover Destroyer’s Dan Bejar isn’t so media-averse after all. He’s at The Opera House on June 23.
Consequence Of Sound and Spin have features on Japandroids, in town at Lee’s Palace on June 23.
Reg Vermue has been pretty busy in the guise of Regina The Gentlelady in Light Fires, but Gentleman Reg is not being neglected; Exclaim reports that Reg will be releasing a new album entitled Leisure Life as a series of three digital EPs, the first arriving July 3 and all of which will be collected in physical form in the Fall. The first track from the collection has been made available to stream.
Stream: Gentleman Reg – “Waiting Around For Gold”
Basia Bulat will be opening up for Andrew Bird at Echo Beach on July 19.
MP3: Basia Bulat – “Gold Rush”
CBC Music asks Bry Webb to name his five favourite records of the last 20 years; The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, Uptown, and Regina Leader-Post. Webb plays The Theatre Centre on August 18 as part of the Summerworks festival, the lineup of which was just announced this week and also features the likes of Evening Hymns and Buck 65 in special performances that promise to better integrate the theatrical side of the festival; should be interesting. Dates and performer information can be had at Exclaim.
The National Post talks to Tony Dekker of Great Lake Swimmers; they’re opening up for Blue Rodeo at The Molson Amphitheatre on August 18.
Exclaim, eMusic, National Post, and Spinner have features on Metric and The Alternate Side a video session to mark the release of Synthetica. The band have a new video from it as well.
Video: Metric – “Youth Without Youth”
PS I Love You have released another video in their Paper Bag Sessions series. The Halifax Chronicle-Herald and McMaster Silhouette have interviews.
Video: PS I Love You – “Death Dreams Pt 1 & 2″
Spin talks to Spencer Krug about the new Moonface record With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery, from which a new video has just been released.
Video: Moonface – “Faraway Lightning”
Macleans investigates why John K Samson is so popular in Germany. Check the Hasselhoff jokes, people. Just don’t.