Polaris Prize 2016 Preview

On Monday September 19th, the 11th annual Polaris Music Prize will be awarded live at The Carlu in Toronto. The Prize, which prides itself on being awarded to the best Canadian album regardless of sales or genre looks to add another impressive jewel into it’s brimming crown. Previous winners include Buffy Sainte-Marie, Tanya Tagaq, Arcade Fire, Feist, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Caribou and Karkwa among others. This years crop of artists is as wide ranging as ever with records by artists that make in your face punk rock, thoughtful electronic pop, singer songwriter folk, hip hop infused EDM, stoner psychedelic rock and much more.

With no previous winners nominated this year, once again the Polaris Prize will ensure it will give its prize of $50,000 to a new nominee. Speaking of the nominees this year there are two 3-time nominees in Basia Bulat and Black Mountain making you wonder if this is the year they finally break through. This year is also the most poppy the nominees have ever been with the straight up bubble gum pop of Carly Rae Jepsen, the electronic pop of Grimes and Jessy Lanza and the baroque pop of Basia Bulat. While Kaytranada is a producer/DJ he faces an uphill battle as only Caribou has won being an electronic artist, while no hip-hop act has ever claimed top prize. Fucked Up is the only pure punk band to win (GY!BE isn’t quite punk despite their angry music), and they are considered the gold standard for the genre so you have to wonder if White Lung or PUP has the rage to pull a win.

For the past two years Live in Limbo has held their own vote on the final ten nominees about whom they thought was the most deserving. Myself and eight other highly qualified contributors to the website listened to all ten albums short listed for this years prize then ranked them 1-10 then all the ballots were tabulated and the artist with the lowest combined score won. In the past two years we thought Caribou and Arcade Fire should have won (Randall Vasquez did correctly think Tanya Tagaq should have won in 2014 that he proudly brags about still).

If you like the field of nominees you should definitely listen to all the albums and also check out the long list of 30 albums. Our jury pool this year really liked most of the albums with whatever they placed at the bottom of their ballots being the only exception. Although some of our jury members were disappointed some of their favourites from the long list didn’t make the cut (“So Half Moon Run is my number one. But since this is clearly a conspiracy by the Trudeau government stacking the field, to further the plan to export yet another pop-tart (Carly) by awarding them money and an award for artistic merit, I’m forced to cease the campaign and acknowledge that these artists are also quite deserving of the award.” –Ryan Watson).

Without further ado, in descending order please see how the LiL ballots tallied up where we have a choice quote from one of our jurors and what ended up being our favourite tracks from each album. Tune in next week to see our review and photos of the gala and reactions to the winner.

Special thanks to our jury members Sean Chin, Randall Vasquez, Andreas Babiolakis, Mike Gallagher, Mark Milner, Neloufer Perera, Gilles LeBlanc and Ryan Watson for participating.

  1. PUP- The Dream is Over

The DIY punks from Toronto have been building quite the reputation as having one of the best live shows today and their follow up from 2013’s long listed debut PUP is just as fun and aggressive. With clever songs about touring and name dropping Toronto institutions it’s hard not to cheer the band on. The Dream is Over is short and to the point, but one wonders if it is deep enough to capture the cross-Canadian jurors this year.

Highest Rank: One 2nd place vote

Lowest Rank: Three 10th place votes

Top Song: DVP

Choice Quote: “If the Polaris Music Prize was awarded to artists based on sheer doggedness, hard-working Toronto boys PUP would win this year, paws down ;)” Gilles LeBlanc

Last LiL Coverage

  1. Jessy Lanza- Oh No

Looking at the song titles for Oh No and you might get a little confused, but once you dig into all the electronic soul packed on the album and song names are the least of your concern. Lanza was previously short listed in 2014 for Pull My Hair Back for her debut album, making her two for two with nominations. Grimes has a similar sound with better production and name recognition so Lanza might not win this time around, but it’s clear that the jurors like her enough to bring her back once already.

Highest Rank: One 3rd place vote

Lowest Rank: Three 9th place votes

Top Song: It Means I Love You

Choice Quote: “I’m not what you’d call an electro-thusiast, but this fiercely female project out of the Hammer with a touch of soul makes me go, Oh Yes!” Gilles LeBlanc

Last LiL Coverage

  1. Kaytranada- 99.9%

Haitian born but Montreal produced electronic/hip-hop DJ Kaytranada burst onto the scene only a few years ago but with his proper major label debut he managed to snag a real who’s who of the music industry to guest on 99.9%. Between Anderson .Paak, BBNG, Vic Mensa, AlunaGeorge, Craig David, Little Dragon and others there is no shortage of interesting and unique voices to be heard here. It gets the party going and gets your brain lost in deep thoughts. Hopefully this isn’t the last time we see Kaytranada get nominated as I feel this isn’t his year.

Highest Rank: Two 2nd place votes

Lowest Rank: One 10th place vote

Top Song: Glowed Up, Drive Me Crazy, You’re The One, One Too Many, Vivid Dreams, Bus Ride (no song got more than one vote)

Choice Quote: The mixing of electronic and hip-hop blends the genres together so well it’s hard to categorize him as one or the other. Pulling in the top guest vocalists in the game in an impressive coup, but more so is how he is able to tailor his beats for such distinct voices.” Dakota Arsenault

Last LiL Coverage

  1. Andy Shauf- The Party

This album has it all, it’s emotional, honest, and raw and it’s not overproduced. Andy plays all the instruments on the album and wrote and produced every song. It’s not what you’d expect an album named The Party to sound like. It seems to capture the intricacies and emotions that the common person experienced at any party. It’s written from the perspective of various people at the party, that help tell the story, whether in third or first person. It’s so easy to imagine the scene in each song, and it seems to slow time down and analyze little things that would normally happen in the snap of a finger in real time. Shauf stands a shot at being a long shot with his simple and clean aesthetic that captures the listener’s ear so perfectly.

Highest Rank: One 1st place vote

Lowest Rank: Two 10th place votes

Top Song: Quite Like You

Choice Quote: “Indie pop still has a strong place in the industry, and Andy is at the top of it.” Sean Chin

Last LiL Coverage

  1. U.S. Girls- Half Free

Stretching the definition of Canadian music is American born Meg Remy, whose project quite literally spells out her nationality. She does have Canadian citizenship and lives up here, so that must be good enough for the Polaris Prize. Her album is both very personal but distant enough that you can’t get a real grasp on who Remy is a person. This is U.S. Girls’ first nomination and it has to be considered a dark horse to come from behind and win the top prize.

Highest Rank: Two 2nd place votes

Lowest Rank: One 10th place vote

Top Song: Window Shades

Choice Quote: “This underrated album is getting its dues. Half Free was a hidden gem in 2015 that is full of retro passion, as if it were an opened time capsule that were reinterpreted by a Toronto indie darling now.” Andreas Babiolakis

Last LiL Coverage

  1. White Lung- Paradise

This noise punk band hailing from Vancouver has been making waves since the release of their first record six years ago, but it wasn’t until 2013’s Deep Fantasy did the Polaris Prize take notice and long listed them. This year they broke through again and cracked the top ten list, but is it their time to shine? Only one hard rock/punk band has ever won and that was Fucked Up, which they have always had a ton of critical support. White Lung is just as political and social as FU is, so if there was a chance for another punk band to win it will be someone like them.

Highest Rank: Three 3rd place votes

Lowest Rank: One 9th place vote

Top Song: Narcoleptic, Below

Choice Quote: “Loud, grimy and crunchy. Fills that Sleater-Kinney hole I didn’t know I had” Mark Milner

Last LiL Coverage

  1. Carly Rae Jepsen- E•MO•TION

After the massive breakthrough with the obnoxiously over played single Call Me Maybe, you had to assume that Jepsen would continue her mainstream bubblegum pop success. Instead there was a huge mismanagement by her team and her follow up record tanked hard even though it was shockingly great. I mean no one in their right mind could have predicted just how well written, produced and sung this album is. She doesn’t have a serious enough album to win, but it’s nice to see perfectly crafted pop music has a place in critical circles.

Highest Rank: One 1st place vote

Lowest Rank: Two 10th place votes

Top Song: Gimmie Love, I Really Like You, Run Away With Me

Choice Quote: “The pop hooks and production are elevated and cohesive, so the whole record feels like a happy little bubble world that exists.” Neloufer Perera

Last LiL Coverage

  1. Black Mountain- IV

While they don’t have the most recognizable name on the list, Black Mountain was short listed in 2008 for In The Future then long listed in 2011 for Wilderness Heart joining Basia Bulat as the most decorated nominee this year. Their psychedelic heavy metal meets stoner rock is a blast to listen to as they are quite the grandiose band. They played at Wayhome this year, which hopefully helped grow their fan base exponentially but it seems like this isn’t the year the band wins the award with so many other strong contenders.

Highest Rank: One 2nd place vote

Lowest Rank: One 9th place vote

Top Song: Mothers of the Sun

Choice Quote: “I’m a big fan of long mood building songs and this album provides a few of these in a modern classic sort of way starting with that haunting intro from Mothers Of The Sun.” Randall Vasquez

  1. Basia Bulat- Good Advice

Bulat has been at the dance before having been shortlisted in 2008 for her debut record Oh, My Darling and then again in 2013 for Tall Tall Shadow showing that the jury members love what she is doing. Good Advice might just be her best album yet as she focuses intently on crafting pleasant yet deep folk pop songs and to the point arrangements that seem to be branching out on each passing record. The real star of her music is her voice which is crisp and distinct. Maybe three times is the charm and Bulat will walk away with her first Polaris Prize finally?

Highest Rank: One 1st place vote

Lowest Rank: Two 7th place votes

Top Song: Infamous, Good Advice

Choice Quote: “While generally Basia’s album produced more enjoyable and easy listening songs that have littered CBC radio all year, its hard to say that this album is truly innovative or ventures into uncharted waters. That’s not to take away that she has put together a record full of some of the best songs of her career, that are catchy, emotional and fun. It’s a great album.” Ryan Watson

Last LiL Coverage

  1. Grimes- Art Angels

After the success of her wildly successful last album Visions, expectations were sky high for Grimes’ follow up and when the first songs were leaked Grimes took the backlash so seriously she started her album over again. Visions was short listed for the Polaris Prize back in 2012 and she is back again with an even stronger album. Her music is more experimental, more off beat and even poppier; Claire Boucher can do no wrong it seems as she is our clear cut front runner to win, our own jury gave her six of a possible nine first place votes.

Highest Rank: Six 1st place votes

Lowest Rank: One 9th place vote

Top Song: Flesh Without Blood, Realiti

Choice Quote: “Art Angles wasn’t only the best album released by a Canadian the last year, it was one of the best albums released by anyone anywhere the last year. By anyone. From the strength of the writing right through to the production, Grimes has shown off some growth that should see her release even bigger albums in the future.” Mike Gallagher

Last LiL Coverage

About author

Music Editor at Live in Limbo and Host of Contra Zoom podcast. Dakota is a graduate of Humber College's Acting for Film and Television. He now specializes in knowing all random trivia. He writes about music, sports and film. Dakota's life goal is visit all baseball stadiums, he's at 7.