Preview: Polaris Prize 2017 & Playlist

For the last few year’s I have conducted my own jury pool to vote on the Polaris Music Prize nominees. Celebrating the best Canadian music has to offer, regardless of sales or genres, Polaris has consistently shined a light on some amazing music. This year is no exception. I asked my jury members to listen to all ten albums then rank them in order of best to worst, based on how they would vote if they were on the real jury. This is not an exercise to see who we think will win, as that is pretty futile. In all my years listening to all the albums, only once have I been able to predict the winner. In my personal opinion I think only Feist and ATCR are the frontrunners with Leonard Cohen or Lisa LeBlanc as dark horse spoilers stand a chance to win. After tallying the votes, please see how our jury would have voted.

Special thanks to Sean Chin, Randall Vasquez, Matt Forsythe, Neloufer Perera and Gilles LeBlanc for participating and sharing their opinions.

1. Feist- Pleasure

Date Released: April 28th 2017

Previous Nominations: The Reminder (Shortlist 2007), Metals (Won 2012)

Why this artist will win: No artist has won twice, can Feist be the first? While she won for her last album, Metals, which was all the way back in 2012. Feist changed up from the sparseness of her last record and added an extra edge to her sound making her a worthy first two-timer.

Why this artist won’t win: Metals was her magnum opus and the Polaris jury has proven it will take a lot for someone to win twice, case in point Arcade Fire, Owen Pallett, Fucked Up and Caribou all not having won a second time yet. Feist has to have as impactful of an album to top the list again.

Chances to win: Very high, true contender.

2. A Tribe Called Red- We Are The Halluci Nation

Date Released: September 16th 2016

Previous Nominations: A Tribe Called Red (Longlist 2012), Nation II Nation (Shortlist 2013)

Why this artist will win: Having been on the Polaris radar for their last two albums, the group win finally take the step forward and win on the strength of their most straight forward and hardest political record yet, all while being utterly infectious.

Why this artist won’t win: The album strays from it’s message at certain points, and just last year an electronic album won so the jury might want to diversify the winners a bit.

Chances to win: Very high, true contender.

“Mixing political statements with a funky dance beat is a surefire winner. ATCR makes their boldest statement yet and it couldn’t be more fun at the same time.” – Dakota Arsenault

Tied for 3. Leonard Cohen- You Want It Darker

Date Released:

Previous Nominations: Old Ideas (Longlisted 2012)

Why this artist will win: Canada’s top poet laureate wrote his swan song of a record with death on his mind as his health deteriorated. It is a deeply personal record about Cohen’s relationship with life, God and himself and it would be a fitting tribute to see him be the first posthumous winner.

Why this artist won’t win: Other than Buffy Sainte-Marie, every previous winner has been a newer artist showing that the jury prefers to award up and coming acts and not be seen as a lifetime achievement award.

Chances to win: Medium to high, could be a dark horse spoiler.

“A fitting goodbye. Wonderfully dark and somber. Perfectly minimal in its instrumentation and classic Cohen vocal.” – Randall Vasquez

Tied for 3. Lisa LeBlanc- Why You Wanna Leave, Runaway Queen?

Date Released: September 30th 2016

Previous Nominations: No previous nominations

Why this artist will win: Her self-described “trash folk” music is instantly likeable. Her charm shines through and makes her music very relatable along with ability to switch between English and French singing effortlessly will win over jury members.

Why this artist won’t win: The Courtney Barnett ultra realism style of lyrics isn’t for everyone, and songs sometimes meander off course losing their focus and edge.

Chances to win: Medium to high, could be a dark horse spoiler.

“This album oozes with a rural Canadian grit and charm, and LeBlanc’s lyrical bite and humour add to the songs’ appeal.” – Neloufer Perera

5. Gord Downie- Secret Path

Date Released: October 18th 2016

Previous Nominations: No previous nominations for Downie or The Tragically Hip

Why this artist will win: The Hip’s lead singer showed why he is considered on of Canada’s top song writers with his latest solo record with a serious message concerning Chanie Wenjack and his story with the Residential Schools system that impacted so many Indigenous people. Downie is also afflicted with brain cancer and this is his swan song deserving of a win.

Why this artist won’t win: It’s hard to write negative things about a man who is dying and wrote a record of great social importance but it wasn’t that well received by all critics and might be seem more of a vanity project.

Chances to win: Medium, doesn’t seem like a true contender.

“Secret Path is an important piece of history that needed to be told; too bad it was overshadowed by all the hoopla surrounding the Hip.” – Gilles LeBlanc

6. Leif Vollebekk- Twin Solitude

Date Released: February 24th 2017

Previous Nominations: No previous nominations

Why this artist will win: The intensely intimate folk record from Vollebekk is a stunner both lyrically and musically. This is also his breakthrough album and Polaris jury members love breakthrough records.

Why this artist won’t win: There wasn’t much hype behind the release and other than Feist folk music hasn’t been very successful, let alone quiet intimate music like this album is.

Chances to win: Medium to high, could be a dark horse spoiler.

“The album is deceptively quiet, but it’s the quiet ones that you have to watch out for! Vollebekk’s gentle style feels like Sunday evenings on a dock by the lake.” – Sean Chin

7. BADBADNOTGOOD- IV

Date Released: July 8th 2016

Previous Nominations: III (Longlist 2014), Sour Soul w/ Ghostface Killah (Shortlist in 2015)

Why this artist will win: The group continues their trend of not featuring any covers; they prove their worth as writers without having to lean on other people’s works. The impressive list of guests like Sam Herring, Colin Stetson and Charlotte Day Wilson (not to mention friend of LiL Tom Moffat) showcase just how well others adapt to their style.

Why this artist won’t win: The album has a few filler tracks more than their earlier more complete works and the songs without guests don’t stand out as much as though with them.

Chances to win: Low, not this time around.

“The phenomenal jazz we love from BBNG with even more amazing vocals by outstanding singers” – Sean Chin

8. Weaves- Weaves

Date Released: June 17th 2016

Previous Nominations: No previous nominations

Why this artist will win: A new an emerging artist like Weaves has the power to capture the hearts of the jury. Kaytranda won just last year with only one proper album to his name and Weaves can do the same thing this year. They mix a ton of genres, which the jury loves.

Why this artist won’t win: Other than a few really standout tracks some of the album just sort of sits there and becomes forgettable at times. While a solid intro to the band, the jury might want to wait to see what they can build on before awarding them the top prize.

Chances to win: Low, not this time around.

“It’s captivating how they manage to squeeze so firmly between complexity and hooks.” – Matt Forsythe

9. Tanya Tagaq- Retribution

Date Released: October 21st 2016

Previous Nominations: Animism (Won 2014)

Why this artist will win: Having previous shown she can capture the spirit of what it means to be a Canadian artist proves she has it in her to do it again. All doubters of her unique throat singing style were put to rest the night she won when she brought the house down with her performance. Her Rape Me cover is powerful as both a song and a political statement about the atrocities Indigenous people in this country have faced.

Why this artist won’t win: This album, while featuring more instrumentation is still structurally very similar to her last record. She is also only a few short years removed from winning, which is clearly not enough time to prevail again.

Chances to win: Low, not this time around.

“Tagaq’s follow up to her Polaris Prize winning album in 2014 is an more rhythmic and angrier collection of tracks. Providing more spoken word as and a guest feature by Shad making it slightly more accessible.” – Randall Vasquez

10. Lido Pimienta- La Papessa

Date Released: October 28th 2016

Previous Nominations: No previous nominations

Why this artist will win: Other than Karkwa, there hasn’t been a winner outside of the English language and to show the diversity of Canadian music with her Spanish music. She is passionate and her music comes to life on stage in a way that is reminiscent of previous winner and fellow nominee Tanya Tagaq.

Why this artist won’t win: The English and French jury members might have a bit of a hard time analyzing Pimienta’s lyrics putting an artificial handicap on her chances.

Chances to win: Medium, doesn’t seem like a true contender.

“Her delightful Spanish singing doesn’t need a translation to understand the emotions she poured into her work. Seeing her live brings a real ethereal quality to her music.” – Dakota Arsenault

Check out the list of top songs from each album as voted on by our jury members to showcase these standout Canadian records.

  1. Pleasure – Feist
  2. A Man Is Not His Song – Feist
  3. R.E.D. – A Tribe Called Red
  4. How I Feel – A Tribe Called Red
  5. You Want It Darker – Leonard Cohen
  6. Leaving the Table – Leonard Cohen
  7. 5748 km – Lisa LeBlanc
  8. Could You Wait ’Til I’ve Had My Coffee? – Lisa LeBlanc
  9. I Will Not Be Struck – Gord Downie
  10. Secret Path – Gord Downie
  11. Into the Ether – Leif Vollebekk
  12. Michigan – Leif Vollebekk
  13. In Your Eyes – BadBadNotGood
  14. Confessions Pt. II – BadBadNotGood
  15. Tick – Weaves
  16. One More – Weaves
  17. Cold – Tanya Tagaq
  18. Centre – Tanya Tagaq
  19. Ruleta – Lido Pimienta
  20. Agua – Lido Pimienta
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