Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Polaris short list picks

Regular readers (all two of you) know that I dig the Canadian music. July 6 is the day when the short list for the 2011 Polaris Music Prize is announced. Last month, a 40-title long list was announced after tabulating votes from over 200 jurors. I already wrote about my unofficial ballot, which is limited to five full length Canadian albums released between June 1, 2010 and May 31, 2011. Of my five selections, only three made the long list. Wednesday at 2:00pm eastern time, they'll announce the ten finalists.

I've made some considerable effort, with great thanks to CBC Radio3, to familiarize myself with every record on the list. As is the case every year, there were some I'd never heard of before the long list. Some are not my style at all. There were some surprise omissions from the long list and some nice new favorites.

Anyway, I'll share the ten that I hope will make the short list, and the ten that I think will make the list. Each of the ten finalists will get a check for $2k and the grand prize winner will get $30k.

My picks, in alphabetical order:

Arcade Fire -- The Suburbs. There's not much I can say about this Montréal band that hasn't been said a million times, and more eloquently. After 2007's Neon Bible, which I hated, I was happy to see this one bounce back.
If you've been living in a cave, you can listen to full versions of their songs on their CBC3 page. I recommend buying the album from the Merge records website here

Austra -- Feel It Break. This was one of three "new to me" artists to make my shortlist. This is the debut record from the Toronto trio fronted by self-described "queer" Katie Stelmanis. It's a little new wave, a little goth, a little new age hippie bullshit. No matter what, I like it.
Check out their CBC3 page. Use this link to buy the album from the Paper Bag Records website. It's probably better if you don't hunt down any videos by this band. Trust me: you'll regret it.

Braids -- Native Speaker. These are just kids. The Montréal-via-Calgary group started as high school chums and stayed together when they moved east to go to college. I assume they're in their early-20s, and they've made a damn fine debut record. Of course there's a female front. Like the Austra record, it's got quite a bit of sythesized sounds. More than I usually dig, but it really works. There's a huge amount of layered vocals that, at times, are almost reminiscent of Liz Fraser from Cocteau Twins. Add to that, the album has a dark, brooding feel and you might mistakenly think that this record came out in the early 1980s. Before these kids were even born.
Here's the CBC3 page, and you can order the record from Flemish Eye Records (Canada only) or Kanine Records (rest of the world).

The Dears -- Degeneration Street. The Montréal six-piece is back with their fifth and arguably second-best record. Although I liked their previous stuff, I hated their fourth album and didn't give this new one a single thought until the long list came out. Turns out, I like it a lot. With the album title, you might think that this band is heavily influenced by The Cure, and that's not too far off, but you'd be wrong to say they "sound like" The Cure. Like The Cure, though, they have shuffled band members about a jillion times. The only constant members are frontman Murray Lightburn and his wife -- keyboard player Natalia Yanchak. They're hevily influenced by The Smiths, and earlier in their career, Lightburn was often described as a blacker, Canadian-er Morrissey. He's got his own style now. Despite the starkness of the cover art and the song titles, this isn't a particularly "dark" album. Pitchfork totally hated this album, giving it a score of 2.4 out of 10, but they hate a lot of things that I love and vice versa. This video of a live performance of the first song from the new album is worth a view:

Here's the CBC3 page, and you should order the album from Dangerbird Records site.

Jenn Grant -- Honeymoon Punch This folky singer-songwriter from Halifax, Nova Scotia released her third album this year. I'd never even heard of her until the long list came out, and I was taken immediately by the first song on the record. I don't quite know how to describe her music other than "fucking good". She sites her influences as Sigur Ros, Phoenix, Camera Obscura among others. I can't hear any Sigur Ros or Phoenix in her work, and I can sort of hear the Camera Obscura influence. I hear something more like Forest City Lovers(who didn't make the long list, but should have). Although it's terribly cliched, I'm surprised that she doesn't site Leslie Feist. Whoever directed her video for "Getcha Good" was crazily influenced by Patrick Daughters, who directed many of Feist's videos including "1,2,3,4" and "Mushaboom". Daughters also directed the crazily awesome video for Depeche Mode's "Wrong". This isn't about Patrick Daughters, though. This is about Jenn Grant. I'll admit that I'm a bit influenced by her looks. I'm quite partial to gingers, and she's very much ginger. That aside, I think she's made a damn fine record. Anyway, here's that video I was talking about:

Here's the CBC3 page and you should buy her record from Six Shooter Records.

Land of Talk -- Cloak and CipherReleased in August of 2010, the second full-length record from the Montréal three-piece was my seventh favorite Canadian record of 2010. The album features guest work by a who's who of Canadian indie-rock, but it's still all about Liz Powell. It's just pop music with an edge. She sites PJ Harvey as an influence, and I suppose I can hear a little of that. I don't know what else to say about this band that I didn't already say here. Listen to their music at the CBC3 page and buy the record from their Saddle Creek Records site.

The Luyas --Too Beautiful to Work. This is the second album by the Montréal quartet. Like the other Montréal bands on this list, they're English-speaking. They're the third of the three "new to me since the long list came out" bands. All I know about them is that the singer Jessie Stein is also in Miracle Fortress (who is also on the long list). She's been accused of sounding exactly like Broadcast singer Trish Keenan, who died in January. In fact, this album reminds me A LOT of the Broadcast album Haha Sound. Not just because of the singing, but also because of the music. It's a bit uncanny. The CBC3 page is here, and I'll recommend the song "Tiny Head". You should buy the record from Dead Oceans Records.

The Rural Alberta Advantage -- Departing. The second record from the Toronto three-piece. Yes, they're originally Albertans, but they moved east a long time ago. It's easy to say "think Neutral Milk Hotel" when describing this band, although more so on the first record than on this one. On this record (but not so much the first one) it's also fair to compare them to Canadian singer/songwriter extraordinaire Hayden. If you get a chance to see this band live, do it. The drummer is incredible. They don't have the best stage presence in the world, but it's still a really good show. On my ballot of five records, I got this one, the Arcade Fire and the Braids records right on the long list. I expect all three to advance to the short list. Listen to them on their CBC3 page and buy the record from the Paper Bag Records site

Stars -- The Five Ghosts. This is the Montréal five-piece's fourth proper album. It's pretty lush and pretty "big", but it's thematically pretty dark. A lot of death imagery. By far their darkest, most musically mature, and most well-produced record. It's a strange juxtaposition that everything from the production to the videos to their live shows is crazily bright while it should be darker, muddier to match the theme. Somehow, it works. I made them an "honorary mention" on my unofficial ballot of five bands. I also listed this as my fourth favorite Canadian album of 2010. Listen to their stuff at their CBC3 page. Buy the record directly from the band's website

Colin Stetson -- New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges. By far the most unique record on my list and probably the whole long list. Stetson, from (you guessed it) Montréal is a wizard on the bass saxophone and has now released two solo records of soundscapes made entirely by the saxophone. Although it sounds like there's a lot of studio production stuff going on, it's all recorded live. He's mastered the circular breathing technique which allows him to play prolonged sustained notes and to play whilst inhaling. He makes lots of percussion noises with the keys of the sax and he makes it sound like there's even more than one horn going, but it's just one dude, one horn and a lot of strategically placed microphones. And a little bit of weird spoken word stuff from Laurie Anderson. It really is an incredible record. Very bizarre, but breathtaking in its complexity. It's pretty creepy and sinister sounding. Hard to turn away from. His CBC3 page is here, and you can buy the album from Constellation Records.

Those are my sentimental picks. I think I might be off the mark with some of them. What I think the list actually will be is (in alphabetical order):
Arcade Fire -- The Suburbs
Braids -- Native Speaker
Destroyer -- Kaputt
Diamond Rings -- Special Affections
Dirty Beaches -- Badlands
Eternia & MoSS -- At Last
Malajube -- La Caverne
P.S. I Love You -- Meet Me at the Muster Station
The Rural Alberta Advantage -- Departing
The Weeknd -- House of Balloons

The list will be announced throughout the day on Wednesday, starting at 2:00 pm.


Bill Purdy said...

As a regular reader of "Red and black is the new black and red," I approve of this list.

Chris Infanti said...

Great post. Sloan's "The Double Cross" is pretty awesome, too.

Jonathan said...

Downloaded The Dears because of that vid. Thanks from a fellow geek.

Good write up too, btw.

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