Dustin Rabin, Polaris Music Prize Leslie Feist won the $30,000 Polaris Music…
- Posted on Sep 17th 2010 6:05PM by Tabassum Siddiqui
With such a wide-open field, it's anyone guess as to who might take home this year's prize -- and if last year's crowning of hardcore heroes F---ed Up was any indication, the only guaranteed Polaris outcome is that the final choice is likely to be a surprising one.
Still, it's always fun to handicap the odds, so before the 11-member grand jury issues its final verdict at the gala ceremony in Toronto on Monday night (Sept.20), let's take a closer look at the ten albums battling for best.
Sure, they still love their distortion, but 'Night' sees the Besnard Lakes trade the fuzz for a little finesse. Their uncompromising sound can be polarizing, however, so whether the Besnard Lakes can prove a consensus pick with the final jury seems improbable.
And though much has been made of the supposed absence of the band's now-famous colleagues, the holy trinity of Feist, Emily Haines, and Amy Millan join forces on one of the album's most indelible tracks, 'Sentimental X's' -– a song as graceful and fluid (and lyrically pointed) as any the supergroup has come up with to date. "What we want/Is off and on" may sound like a lack of commitment, but judging by the beautiful music they make when they come together, whatever needed to be forgiven in the BSS camp has long been forgotten.
As beloved as BSS is, though, their ubiquity seems to almost work against them when it comes to awards like Polaris. But given the group's far-reaching sound, there may very well be a little something for everyone on the jury to like. The odds are slim, but they could end up surprising pundits by coming up the middle.
'Swim,' his fifth full-length, seems to continue Snaith's refusal to be pigeonholed into one particular sound, while still managing to expand upon the template set by his previous left-field forays into melding classic pop tropes with electro flourishes. In fact, 'Swim' sees him hearken back to the beat-oriented influences of his earliest work -- but instead of the gentle, polite rhythms of yesteryear, 'Swim' finds Caribou moving right onto the dancefloor with a sultry, heady edge that happens to suit the mathematics Ph.D quite well. Whoever said nerds can't get down?
Smart arrangements, clever melodies, and robust harmonies provide the backbone for 'Les Chemins de Verre'. The album was recorded in an old French manor house, and it shows: there's a rich tone to the proceedings that feels at once intimate yet epic in scope -- a tricky balance to achieve. The band is no stranger to prizes, having won nine Felix Awards in Quebec, but their low profile in the rest of Canada may hinder their chances of nabbing the Polaris. That said, their inclusion on the shortlist is likely to introduce them, and their well-crafted album, to a whole new audience.
In fact, there's something uncommonly refreshing about Mangan's lack of pretense -- in an era where fashion sense often seems to dictate whatever micro-genre the kids are listening to at any given moment, old-fashioned story-songs strummed on an acoustic guitar feel almost like a breath of fresh air. (Plus, bonus points for mocking the too-cool hipster set on 'The Indie Queens Are Waiting.') Mangan already won the XM Verge Artist of the Year award last fall -- a Polaris win would certainly nicely cap the fairytale year he's had.
If that doesn't sound impressive enough, there's the matter of the music itself -- Pallett's whispery timbre has never sounded lovelier, and his complex arrangements all but demand close listening. The boy wonder has grown up -- and luckily almost doesn't even need the attention that comes with winning the Polaris. (Though, it's worth rooting for him on the merits of his plans for the prize money alone: Pallett's said he'd donate the part of the winnings to the legal defence fund for those arrested during the recent G20 protests in Toronto.)
The rhythmic, party-ready beats and rapid-fire flow are catchy in any language, and there's an appealing electro edge to the production that elevates the record above most indie hip-hop. Radio Radio may be a longshot to take home the Polaris, but making it onto the shortlist is a huge win in itself, as the nod is likely to boost word of mouth about their highly entertaining (and rather unique) sound.
While they live up to the album's title with the dark, heavy bent they're known (and praised) for, 'Darker Circles' also sees the band stretching their stylistic muscles, incorporating slightly different colours into their musical palette that pushes their sound forward instead of simply remaining static. The lyrics still sketch out stories of struggle, but the melodies hint at redemption -- even a doomed tale like that of 'Violet and Jeffrey Lee' rocks out with unbridled energy instead of a ponderous heaviness. Dark and light, rock meets roll, at once both old and new, the Sadies may find that their uncanny ability to keep their sound vital and relevant resonates with the Polaris jury.
Lead track 'Rose Garden' (arguably one of the best Canadian songs of the year) sets the bar high early on, matching its classic soul-diva sample up against Broken Social Scene vocalist Lisa Lobsinger's sweet croon for a fizzy cocktail of a number that lays out Shad's multi-faceted modus operandi from the get-go: all that sweetness and light only lays the bait for his barrage of dexterous wordplay, which touches on everything from pop culture references to his own personal narrative.
Polaris organizers have always been adamant that the Prize is supposed to be about one thing: recognizing the best Canadian album of the year, regardless of genre. So while it's easy to say that it's about time a hip-hop album took home the title, that's not the reason Shad's bound to win this year's Prize -- he will because 'TSOL' is the rare album, Canadian or otherwise, that manages to win over listeners of almost any stripe because it boasts both smarts and heart.
Inspired by a Leonard Cohen lyric and featuring the first song ever co-written by the sisters, 'Sainthood' finds T&S in a contemplative place (after all, brooding is what these two do best), but all that introspection is set to some pretty poppy hooks -- all the better to earworm those diary-scribbling teenagers into submission, y'know. But if that sounds like a slight, it's not: these are clearly two songwriters who know what they're doing -- on 'Sainthood', Tegan and Sara continue to play to their strengths, with their tight, crisp melodies and matchless harmonies sounding as effortless as ever.
Whether 'Sainthood' is the best Canadian album of the year is debatable, but Tegan and Sara have a way of insinuating themselves into people's heads -- perhaps the jury might fall prey to their pop charms? It's hard to see them as a consensus pick, but in the end they could prove a curious dark horse contender.