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Polaris Prize 2011 - What's Your Top 5?

Posted by Jer / June 7, 2011

Polaris Prize 2011 Today's the deadline for jurors to submit their first ballot for the 2011 edition of the Polaris Prize . The award honours "creativity and diversity in Canadian recorded music" by recognizing by the best album of the year, regardless of sales, popularity or anything else. Basically, Polaris has a jury of about 220 plus writers, critics, radio hosts, bloggers, other music types who pick their 5 favourite albums (released between June 1, 2010 - May 31, 2011). After a long list of 40 albums and a short list of 10, a Polaris grand jury picks the winner at a special Gala in September. Thanks to a bump in prize money for 2011, the winning artist/band gets $30,000 to help defray the costs of the rock'n'roll lifestyle.

Thanks to my involvement with Midnight Poutine and our weekly podcast, where we play lots of contenders for this year's prize, I've been fortunate enough to submit a ballot for the past two years. This year seemed harder than ever, and Montreal certainly had no shortage of albums to contribute. There were beautiful and brilliant albums from the likes of The Arcade Fire, Stars, the Dears, The Luyas, Sean Nicholas Savage, Miracle Fortress, Malajube, Monogrenade, Little Scream, Grimes, Peter Peter, SoCalled, Colin Stetson, Young Galaxy and on and on and on. Honestly, I could have made a decent long list just from artist in and around the 514.

In the end, I could only pick 5, and I had to consider albums from all across this wonderfully rich musical country (though my list did end up more MTL-heavy than in previous years). I've included my picks below, both to spur discussion and as a call to ears to listen to these amazing albums if you haven't already. These my picks are mine and mine alone. The views expressed here do not represent those of MP or its corporate subsidiaries. MP shall not be held responsible.

I'm sure many of the other contributors and readers here would have a completely different list, and I encourage them to submit their own ballots below in the comments section. What are your 5 favourite Canadian albums in the last year?

5. Colin Stetson - New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges
This is easily the most amazing, impressive, virtuosic, awe-inspiring album I've heard this year, if not this decade. I know that sounds insanely exaggerated. But it's an absolutely incredible collection of artworks, all created by one guy and his sizeable collection of saxophones (well, that's not totally true...credit has to go to the producers and engineers who placed the mics to capture the endless echoes and nuances). When you look into the process of "circular breathing" that underpins the album's sound, you realize it's not just a musical achievement, but a technical and physical one. Stetson is basically a human looping machine, building intricate rhythms by berating in and out simultaneously (check him out here, or, for fun, see Kenny G's description of the process).

4. Timber Timbre - Creep on Creepin' On
I've been into Timber Timbre's creepy, ghost-story infused folk since their last disc, and while the novelty of Taylor Kirk's freaky-crooner voice has worn off a bit, I'm impressed they were able to make an album that's spookier than their last one. The new disc has some stand out singles ("Bad Ritual", "Black Water") but it's also peppered with intermissions of scary-movie type soundtrack instrumentals ("Swamp Magic", "Souvenirs"). All in all it adds up to a pretty strange and different sounding album, one that builds on what was good about the last disc but is still unafraid to venture into a few new dark corners.

3. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
No surprises here. This is a big, killer album; one that cuts across genres and niches. This album will easily make the long list, definitely make the shortlist, and it will likely be the album to beat when the final prize is handed out.

2. Braids - Native Speaker
This hypnotic experimental pop album just keeps on giving. Layers of electronic glitches and sustaining sounds build upon layers of otherworldly vocals. And then everything washes out, and the process starts again. Lather, rinse, repeat. Or, as Robert Everett-Green of the Globe and Mail put it much more poetically, Braids "makes music the way the sea handles water, by overlapping simple elements to produce overwhelming effects." The stand out tracks on this album like "Lemonade" or "Plath Heart" were quick to garner attention, but the song that best encapsulates the band is "Lammicken". Go listen to it. Love it. Then listen again.

1. Hooded Fang  - Hooded Fang Album
This album snuck up on me. Completely. Not that it's hard to get into. In fact, at first pass, it seems rather innocuous: happy cute melodies laced over pleasing instrumentation. It seemed so straightforward that I didn't think it would have any staying power. But, as I kept returning to it again and again, almost as if it was against my will, I realized how wonderfully crafted this collection of indie-pop songs    is. The tracks are tight, succinct and beaming with romantic innocence. The band is like a more dialed-down, self-depricating version of Stars, but not as serious and moody as Belle and Sebastien. They wear their emotions on their sleeves but they've got jackets on.

Honourable Mentions
Sarah Harmer - Oh Little Fire. There's something about the way Sarah Harmer tells stories. And while this has been true for all her solo albums (and her work with Weeping Tile), I've been disappointed, musically, by what her last few albums have had to offer. The songs seemed to blend into one another, hinting that maybe she was a bit stuck. Oh Little Fire shows how wrong that assumption was. Her signature catchy smart tracks are surrounded by hidden subtle gems, making for a wonderfully rich album experience. It seems weird to have had to decide between Sarah Harmer and Colin Stetson for the last spot; the two albums could not be further apart. I hope she makes the long list...so I can agonize over her album again.

Before I get called out for the Anglo indie bent here, I should mention that Malajube and Tigre et Diesel both had incredibly solid, fuzzy, dancey albums, but none of them lived up to Karkwa's album last year. In truth, I found myself closer to including the quieter and moodier albums from Monogrenade and Peter Peter on my ballot. If you're looking for reasons to learn French, be sure to check these last two out.

Polaris Headquarters will announce the long list of the top 40 albums in about 10 days. Stay tuned.



phl_lmbrt / June 7, 2011 at 08:12 pm
i'd go with Galaxi – Tigre et diésel - for sure. Then a spot for Jimy Hunt self-title. Colin Stetson is another great pick. But for some reason, i doubt it's Polaris material. Suuns – Zero Qc – is another of my favourites canadian album of end 2010, beginning 2011. and finally i wouldn't be surprise to see Random Recipe making the long list, even though it's really not my thing!
Kanchipuram sarees / June 6, 2018 at 10:42 pm
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golu dolls / June 6, 2018 at 10:42 pm
nice post

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