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Posted by Jer / June 9, 2009

20090608polaris.jpgIt's midnight and the 175+ jurors for the Polaris Music Prize have just submitted their first ballot. The Polaris prize is Canada's version of the U.K.'s Mercury Prize; it's an award given to the Canadian artist that has released the best album of the year, regardless of silly criteria that govern other awards (like sales, genre, label etc.). Each panel member gets to pick their 5 top albums (so long as it's released by a Canadian artist between June 1 2008, and May 31, 2009). Then, the good people at Polaris headquarters start compiling the votes. Next week they'll release a long list of 40 albums. On July 7th, the picks get culled down to a Top Ten (a.k.a the Polaris shortlist).

Montreal bands released an embarrassingly solid amount of discs this year. Clues, Coeur de Pirate, Parlovr, Belle Orchestre, Malajube, Think About Life, La Patere Rose and on and on. Pick one...they're all great. But the rest of Canada had a pretty good year in music too. When it all comes down to it, which 5 would you pick?

That's the question I've been wrestling with for the last few months, which has been both a fun and difficult process. Besides the musical benefits (I've personally found dozens of new bands that I'm now hooked on), being on the panel of pickers is a wonderful little sociological experiment in taste (and therefore class) and list-ology. The science behind lists is always fuzzy. And it gets even more interesting when you throw the choice out to a group of journalists and bloggers whose job it is to write about their tastes on a regular basis. I felt a bit like a fish out of water, or rather, a fish in water that was a lot deeper than expected.

My top 4 picks were pretty easy; I'd fallen in love with these albums as soon as I laid my ears on them and they only got better with subsequent listens. But that #5 spot was really difficult to fill.

Here's where my ballot ended up. Be warned, these choices represent the view of the author only. Midnight Poutine is in no way responsible for my opinions or the flame wars that may ensue. Enjoy these as much as I have, or share your top 5 picks below:

5. Years - Years
Three instrumental albums were vying for the fifth spot: Torngat's La Petite Nicole, Belle Orchestre's As Seen Through Windows, and Years. My darkhorse pick won't likely make it to the long list, and that's a shame. Years is Ohad Benchetrict's solo debut (he's also in Do Make Say Think and a contributor to Broken Social Scene and other A&C acts) and I'm hoping people will enjoy it more as they sit with it longer (it only came out a month ago). It's a wonderful mess. It shifts styles/moods pretty frequently but it never veers too far from sounds that DMST or BSS explore. There's stripped down acoustic guitar loops and full on cinematic explosions. Either way, it's a pretty arresting piece of post-rock. Key Track - Don't Let the Blind Go Deaf

4. Land of Talk - Some are Lakes
There was a slew of great Montreal acts to choose from this year but no CD saw more spins for me than Land of Talk. Lead singer Liz Powell's voice is heartbreaking. The crunchy guitar and bass riffs can be mean and edgy when needed (Corner Phone still scares me for the first 15 seconds), and they can slow it down to perfection (It's Okay plods along only to reveal one of the most well-written choruses I've heard in years). Key Track - Some Are Lakes

3. Chad Van Gaalen - Soft Airplane
This is Van Gaalen's most consistent and cohesive album to date. It's also probably his eeriest and most disturbing, which says a lot of you know his work. He's writing and singing about death, but that doesn't stop him from delivering catchy melodies and ear-pleasing harmonies (seriously, how does Willow Tree make me smile while singing about burning bodies?). He definitely deserves another shot at the prize (his last album almost won the Polaris in 2008). Key Track - City of Electric Light

2. Timber Timbre - Timber Timbre
I've read about 15 reviews of this album and I'm still not sure anyone has accurately captured what makes Timber Timbre's self-titled disc so unbearably listenable. Taylor Kirk gets described as minimalist, psychedelic, ghostly, bluesy, and folky and these are all true. But there's something special - I think it's in the tone of his voice - that has kept this album on constant repeat on my stereo. It's both soothing and gut-wrenching at the same time, if that's possible. Key Track - Until the Night is Over

1. Bruce Peninsula - A Mountain is a Mouth
Along with pick #2, this is one of the most unique sounding albums I've heard all year. I haven't gone to church in years, but I would reconsider if the services sounded like this. I don't want to call this gospel-folk, but it definitely takes its cues from choirs and hymns. Give it a chance: A Mountain is a Mouth will eat its way into your soul. Key Track - Shutters

Consolation Prizes
Clues - Clues
Coeur de Pirate - Coeur de Pirate
Andrew Vincent - Rotten Pear
Metric - Fantasies
Hey Rosetta - Into Your Lungs (and in through your heart and into your blood)
D-Sisive - Let the Children Die
Rae Spoon - Superior You Are Inferior
Rock Plaza Central - the Moment of our Most Needing or If Only They Could Turn Around, They Would Know They Weren't Alone



Greg / June 9, 2009 at 02:05 am
If I may weigh in...

5 - Women, self-titled LP
4 - Eamon McGrath, 13 Songs of Whiskey and Light
3 - Handsome Furs, Face Control
2 - Land of Talk, Some are Lakes
1 - Bell Orchestre, As Seen Through Windows

Lots of other bands I would include if they had full-length albums out by now... Oh well, should make next year especially interesting.
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