Liam MaloneyAnd then there were ten.
Yesterday, atop the roof of the Drake Hotel amidst record-breaking heat, the short 2012 Polaris Music Prize short list was announced, dashing the hopes of thirty artists and allowing ten others to begin imagining just what they might do with the $30,000 prize that awaits one of them (the correct answer being: gold plate all of the things). And it’s an interesting group, to be sure.
Some will complain about the lack of a francophone artist – which also surprises me considering the number of strong contenders on the long list – and the heavy 416-ness of the list – 4.5 from Hogtown – but as far as gender and genre splits go, it acquits itself pretty nicely. Usually I can look at the short list and immediately eliminate at least a few of them from serious consideration of winning, but this year it’s a lot tougher to do so – I can envision how many of these records could garner enough support from the grand jury, whomever that ends up being, to have sufficient numbers to come out on top. All of this is speculation, of course, and only those in that creepy-ass Freemason room in the Masonic Temple on September 24 will know exactly how it goes down. But until then, and even though most will save their handicapping until the week before the gala, here’s my thoughts on the short list with points for and against.
Cadence Weapon / Hope In Dirt City (Upper Class Recordings)
Edmonton’s former poet laureate second appearance on the short list comes for a stronger record than Breaking Kayfabe and a higher overall public and critical profile. However, the narratives around the other nominees are almost all stronger and more compelling, and whatever merit Dirt City has, I don’t think it’s going to be front of anyone’s mind including the grand jury.
MP3: Cadence Weapon – “Conditioning
Cold Specks / I Predict A Graceful Expulsion (Arts & Crafts)
That Al Spx is a compelling talent and Expulsion an impressive debut that doesn’t just rest on the power of her voice is unquestionable. But whether it goes far enough in establishing her as having a strong artistic vision of her own rather than just exploring styles of the past, at least at this point in her career, is still up for debate.
Video: Cold Specks – “Blank Maps”
Drake / Take Care (Universal Republic)
By far the “biggest” – at least in terms of mass appeal, record sales, fanbase – artist to make the short list since the Polaris was created, Drake is in rather a unique position, and one that I can’t really argue for or against. Sufficed to say that while I don’t care at all for what he does, millions of others do – and statistically that certainly increases the odds of a sympathetic grand jury. If he does win, I’m pretty sure we won’t be seeing any, “Who the hell is Drake” Tumblrs.
Video: Drake – “Marvin’s Room”
Kathleen Edwards / Voyageur (Maple Music)
There’s no question that Voyageur is the strongest album of Edwards’ career and she’s an eminently likeable artist, but I have trouble arguing it’s the grandest artistic statement our country was able to turn out this year. That said, with the most of the short list decidedly genre there’s a lot of room for something to come up through the middle (of the road) and take it all. If half the jury has gone through a break up recently, then it’s as good as hers.
MP3: Kathleen Edwards – “Change The Sheets”
Feist / Metals (Arts & Crafts)
Many/most assumed that Feist’s latest would at least make the short list even before the album was released – that’s how much people assume that Feist would do something great. So it’s interesting how polarized the response to it has been, with some thinking it’s the deepest record she’s made and others the dullest, but neither side of the argument seems to be that passionate about it.
Video: Feist – “The Bad In Each Other”
Fucked Up / David Comes To Life (Matador)
Despite a few opportunities, we’ve yet to see an artist repeat as Polaris winner and as much as I think Fucked Up are deserving – not for nothing did they top my first ballot and everyone loves the band if not their music – I don’t know if David will have won enough hearts and minds so convincingly to overcome the innate, “they’ve already won!” sentiment that everyone will feel if few will admit.
MP3: Fucked Up – “The Other Shoe”
Grimes / Visions (Artbus)
Perhaps the most heavily-favoured act, at least amongst people I know, there’s not an artist on the list who sounds more absolutely of the moment than Claire Boucher and her chirpy electro-pop. My concerns about this record are that the songwriting is kind of slight and that which is in fashion will, by definition, fall out of fashion and I don’t know that Visions has the sort of weight or timelessness that I’d like to think that the best album our country has to offer would have. However I don’t expect people will hear those concerns as they’ll be too busy dancing. Probably the odds-on favourite to take it all right now.
MP3: Grimes – “Oblivion”
Handsome Furs / Sound Kapital (Sub Pop)
This one’s an interesting entrant, what with the band having announced their dissolution just before the deadline for submission of the first ballots. Not to say that it didn’t have a lot of support before that happened – it almost certainly did – but dominating the news cycle for those few days and reminding every music critic in the country that the band had an eligible record and that it was kind of great certainly didn’t hurt. Now the question is whether or not Dan Boeckner and Alexis Perry can and will put their differences aside to show up at and perform at the gala. Drama!
MP3: Handsome Furs – “Repatriated”
Japandroids / Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl)
There’s a lot of affection for this duo, who went from the verge of splitting up to releasing one of the best pure rock records that this country has seen in a while, and I expect they’ll peel some loud guitar votes from Fucked Up and “if only Springsteen was Canadian” votes from Handsome Furs by being more accessible and immediate than either, but will they be able to sell party as art and get every fist in the grand jury room pumping in unison? I have my reservations.
MP3: Japandroids – “Younger Us”
Yamantaka//Sonic Titan / YT//ST (Psychic Handshake)
I mentioned that Fucked Up topped my first ballot but I should note that by the time second ballots were due, YT/ST had taken the top spot. As Radio Free Canuckistan pointed out in his Polaris preview, a year ago no one had ever heard of this band and now they’ve shortlisted without any appreciable PR effort – just word of mouth from those who’ve heard the record or seen the show – and no label is really unprecedented. They’re certainly not for everyone – if you don’t buy into their “Noh-wave” manifesto, then they probably come off as kind of ridiculous – but despite being the most outside and difficult act on the short list, they’re clearly for more people than anyone might have expected. Certainly, no one can argue they don’t have artistic ambitions or that they’re boring, and they have momentum. So. Much. Momentum.
Video: Yamantaka // Sonic Titan – “Hoshi Neko”
While we’re talking Polaris, aux.tv has an excellent oral history of the prize from organizers, jurists, and nominees, and The National Post got some reactions of shortlisters after discovering that they were. And if you’re interested in seeing some of the nominees live in Toronto, you’re in luck – Cadence Weapon is at Lee’s Palace on July 21 opening up for Liars, Cold Specks is at The Great Hall on August 8, Drake’s annual OVO Fest hits The Molson Amphitheatre on August 5, Fucked Up play Fort York as part of Riot Fest on September 9, Yamantaka//Sonic Titan headline the first day of ALL CAPS! on Toronto Islands on August 11, and Grimes has just announced a date at Lee’s Palace on September 21, tickets $20 in advance.
Some were surprised that Dan Mangan didn’t make the shortlist; he’ll have to drown his sorrows in a cross-Canada tour with The Rural Alberta Advantage that stops in at the Danforth Music Hall on October 25, tickets $32.50 to $39.50. And if you feel inclined to point out that that room isn’t much bigger than the ones that each act has just about filled on their own last year (the Queen Elizabeth Theatre and Phoenix, respectively), I would say that you were correct and point out, in return, that they currently have an off day the following night. You do the math.
MP3: Dan Mangan – “Oh Fortune”
MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “North Star”
Sarah Neufeld, aka violinist for current Polaris champs Arcade Fire, also does a solo thing and she’ll be bringing that thing to The Drake Underground on November 10, tickets $12. Read these pieces at The Georgia Straight and The Province from a west coast tour in May for an idea of what that thing is.
Video: Sarah Neufeld – “Scalpel/Stradivarius”
Pitchfork has details on the new album from Diamond Rings – Free Dimensional will be out October 23.
The Line Of Best Fit has made a new song from The Wilderness Of Manitoba available to download, but it comes not from their new album Island Of Echoes – we continue to have to wait to hear an official sample of that – but from the Delaware House EP they’re releasing overseas to coincide with a European tour. The album is out September 18.
MP3: The Wilderness Of Manitoba – “The Ark”
Exclaim talks to Evan Gordon of The Magic.
The Line Of Best Fit has released a new Oh Canada! downloadable maple-flavoured compilation.