If you aren’t familiar with the Polaris Prize, you really should be. Going into it’s 10th year now, the prize awards the best album in Canadian music, regardless of genre or sales and it is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with. In past years winners include Tanya Tagaq, Arcade Fire, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Feist, Fucked Up, Caribou and more. What makes it so great is the list is usually pretty diverse in styles of music and usually includes some great critical acclaim from outside of our lovely country. The US and England are starting to notice some of our great artists and as a whole is allowing more great art to be created.
The way the award works is a large jury of music industry types and music journalists submit ballots of their favourite albums of the year. After all the votes are tabulated the top 40 albums are announced and this year’s list was a doozy. The list includes a mix of high profile artists, up and comers and hidden treasures that have been around the scene for a while. Then the list is pared down to 10 finalists, who are voted on by a smaller pool of jurors and a big gala is held to honour them. Each act has a presenter go on stage and praise its strengths and shed some new and interesting light on the work. Most of the acts will perform and then a winner is chosen live and receives $50,000 (all runner-ups receive $3,000).
Without further ado, here are the nominees.
Alvvays – Alvvays
BadBadNotGood & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul
Braids – Deep in the Iris
Caribou – Our Love
Jennifer Castle – Pink City
Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon
The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
Buffy Sainte-Marie – Power in the Blood
Viet Cong – Viet Cong
First off let’s look at some interesting details about this group. Caribou is the only artist of this group to have previously won (he won in 2008 for Andorra). In the long list there was only one other previous winner, Patrick Watson who won in 2007 for Close To Paradise, the second year of the prize. Caribou has plenty of critical acclaim, fan buzz and momentum going into this year and the fact that he has past jury support easily places him as a betting man’s favourite to win again this year, except that no one has won twice, not even the great Arcade Fire has managed this feat.
Previous shortlisters on this list include Braids (one previous nom), Caribou (two previous noms, one being a win), Drake (two previous noms) and The New Pornographers (one previous nom).
Looking at genre’s you start to notice a bit of a trend with the Polaris Prize, something that it is often criticized for, which is a lack of diversity. Outside of Caribou (Electronic) and Tanya Tagaq (Traditional Inuit Throat Singing) all previous winners have been rock based and only one winner was for a French act (Karkwa). Looking at the group of ten this year there is one Electronic, one Hip-Hop, one Jazz/Hip-Hop and Buffy Sainte-Marie who combines Traditional Native Music with various other genres, which leaves six of the acts to be Rock based. I love Rock-based music as much of the next guy, but it makes the award seem very mainstream “Pop-ish” when the award seems to always reflect these influences. There is no Orchestral, pure Jazz, Opera, or any other genre not found on traditional FM music stations.
Looking at who might have the best chances of winning from a critical reception stand point is difficult, because all these albums were widely acclaimed in some form or another. You have to wonder if a debut album will win, as there has never been a debut album winner in the previous years. That means that Alvvays, Tobias Jesso Jr. and Viet Cong may have an early deficit to overcome. There has also never been a Hip-Hop winner even though there have been nine previous nominees (eleven if you count this year) so Drake and BBNG/Ghostface Killah should just be happy to be there, if they decide to show up. Last year Drake was nominated for Nothing Was The Same and he was the only act who wasn’t there and didn’t perform (Arcade Fire did not perform but Win Butler was there on behalf of the band). Polaris puts out a series of 45 RPM records with a song from each nominee and Mr. Drizzy himself, declined to allow his music to be used last year, maybe upsetting the insular Canadian music industry in the process and hurting his chances to win yet again. Plus is If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late an album or a mixtape? Maybe this weird limbo might scare off some voters who want more certainty with the projects they back.
Buffy Sainte-Marie might be this years dark horse nominee to bet on as she is a legend in the Canadian music scene and she released a really impressive album that is truly genre bending. She has been around long enough to influence just about everyone and is an icon that seems to get better with age. On a similar note The New Pornographers also made their best and most personal album in their already impressive career that seems to bring out the best in the very prominent cogs in their machine.
Oddly enough even though the prize is in its tenth year there aren’t many indicators to go on. Not many people expected, let alone even knew who Tanya Tagaq was when she won on the heels of a career turning performance at the ceremony. Could Jennifer Castle, a veteran but mostly unknown performer be this years surprise winner? Or will a more traditional winner be crowned? I would place Caribou as the early favourite since he has both huge critical and fan support behind his beautiful album Our Love, followed closely by The New Pornographers, Alvvays, Buffy Sainte-Marie and possibly BBNG/Ghostface Killah as the ones most likely to challenge for the title.
Who do you think should win and who do you think will walk away with the prize on September 21st?