The 2015 Polaris Music Prize Short List was announced a week or so ago, trimming down the list of 40 Canadians bands to just 10.
If you’re Canadian and love great music, but you’re unfamiliar with the Polaris Music Prize, then you’ve been missing out. Each year, The Polaris Prize celebrates the critically-determined top albums of the year made by Canadian bands and musicians. Even though I mainly use the prize selections as a source of new songs and albums to download, I still view the award as a necessary way to spotlight some of the creative and musical talent here at home – especially when you consider how much of Canadian entertainment culture has become an extension of the Americans.
I started following Polaris a few years ago, when Arcade Fire’s ‘The Suburbs’ came away with the top award. The winning album caught my attention and interest, but in the end, it was the shortlist that truly captured my heart (<3). It’s the closest thing to a perfect yearly sample of what Canadian music has to offer, and I’ve grown a huge appreciation for the effort Polaris makes each year to base their short-list selections off of quality and value, and not necessarily hype.
So, with my obvious adoration for the Polaris Music Prize, I thought it would be interesting in this year’s selection to delve deeper and give a listen to every single album on the short list. With that, hear are my favorite tracks from each album, plus some insight on how I thought of their work.
Check it out here, and see afterwards which album I think will take home the top prize.
Alvvays – Self-Titled
Song: Adult Diversion
You know, I’ve heard a couple of their tracks in the past, and I alvvays just thought they were just another generic, dreamy, hipster-eque pop band. Yet I’ve realized, there’s more to it than that.
I think they’ve nailed down that distorted, dreamy and light-hearted style so fricking well, that it becomes difficult to not get caught up in their tracks. It’s sort of like The Drums, if you’re familiar with their music – similarly, their tracks can seem a bit generic and simple, yet you see yourself listening to it over and over again, loving it in a timeless sort of way.
BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul
Song: Sour Soul
Ghostface never stops. I honestly think the title track for this album, Sour Soul, is one of the slickest rap tracks I’ve heard this year. I love the way BBNG focuses in their music to that old school style of production that Ghostface can really go off on, yet not overdoing it to outshine his verses.
Still though, as far as the album as goes, aside from a few great gems, I think it really could’ve been a lot better. Their project reminds me a lot of the collaboration that Freddie Gibbs did with Madlib onPinata late last year. Similarly, both are collaborations of two great artist/bands who are attempting to create something different, unique. Yet, when comparing the two, Pinata brought more refinement and versatility, Gibbs displayed more power and emotion and Madlib pushed the boundaries of creativity further – I think both Ghostface and BBNG played it too safe, especially when comparing their album to some of the best of recent years.
Braids – Deep in the Iris
I think Braids’ new album is one that stands out from the rest; they have a style of music that is really unique to itsel,. You can hear their diverse range of influence, from indie pop to the strong electronic and breakbeat influences. It all comes together harmoniously .
This particular track, Blondie, is definitely my favourite off of Deep in the Iris. It embraces that electronic and beat-driven spectrum of their music to perfection. It almost sounds like a throwback to hardstyle, which you rarely hear nowadays.
As far as uniqueness and creativity goes, Deep in the Iris is hands-down among the top on this list.
Buffy Saint-Marie – Power in the Blood
Song: Sing Our Own Song
I’m not going to say a lot about Buffy Saint-Marie, as I’m not too familiar with her work, but I think for when it comes to her music, it’s obviously about the lyrics more than anything else. I’m personally not a fan of her voice, nor the production, but her lyrics and message, I can see the influence. She’s an activist for her roots, and to my knowledge, she’s been influential for quite some time.
Caribou – Our Love
Song: Can’t Do Without You
Caribou has been killing it for a while. They won the Polaris Award in 2008 for their album, Andorra, and released an awesome album in 2010 with Swim. Their most recent album up for this year’s award, Our Love, is up there with the two I just listed. It’s distinctly Caribou, but with the needed differentiation from their previous releases. With that said, after giving Our Love the full listen, I think it isn’t quite what it needs to be as whole, both in creativity and consistency, to push the band up there with greats within their field of electronic style, such as Deerhunter or Animal Collective.
Nonetheless, it deserves the shortlist nod and with tracks like Can’t Do Without You, Mars and Dive, they’ve continued to show they can produce awesome tracks.
Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
You love him or you hate him, right? Myself, I still can’t decide. He puts out tracks that are really not that great, yet I still listen to them. He’s annoying, but he’s also pretty funny. He’s a great spokesman for the Toronto Raptors and “LOUWILL”, but then you see him sucking up to others teams and players. I really don’t know.
As for this album, it’s okay. He’s the biggest Canadian name in hip-hop, so he will probably get a nod for every half-decent album he puts out, yet, I think this is pretty said-and-done. For myself, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is is behind Nothing was the Same and Take Care, as far as quality goes.
Still though, tracks like Energy get stuck in my head. It’s like Hold On, We’re Going Home, that song can never get out of my mind after I listen to it.
Jennifer Castle – Pink City
Song: Like a Gun
Jennifer Castle’s voice is beautiful. It’s so soft and light, and floats along with the instruments in such an elegant way. Although with her style of music, very traditional singer-songwriter-esque, it’s difficult to receive a lot of media attention since there is so much of it out there, I was still surprised to see how little attention she has received. As far as I’ve heard, this song is amongst the best I’ve recently heard within her respective art.
It’s super weird to listen to Drake’s album, then follow up with hers. Completely opposite approaches to music and on opposite sides of the hype chart, yet both respectively competing against each other for the same prize.
The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
Song: Champions of Red Wine
Besides Drake, The New Pornographers’ album, Brill Busiers, probably win the award for most radio plays. Simply based off of their title track, I’m not sure how many times I’ve heard that “Buh-baaah-buh-bah-bah-buuuh” on the local alternative radio. Nonetheless, it’s is a cool album – super light, fun and mirrors that classic alt-rock that so many people love. It’s surprising to see that it’s the only of its kind on this year’s short list. The New Pornographers’ style of music pretty much symbolizes Canadian music as whole – that Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene type of genre.
Although I don’t think Brill Bruisers is groundbreaking in any way, it’s still refreshing to see a long established Canadian band put out some more good music. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see them win this year’s award.
Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon
Song: Without You
This guy. Man, this guy. Is it just me, or does he remind you of John Lennon? He really brings it back to that timeless era of music, where legends like Lennon, Elton John and Randy Newman thrived. He’s a new-age piano man – That’s Jesso Jr.
Goon, I really can’t praise enough. It’s an album with a clear-cut identity that can appeal to music lovers that are deep into the classics and also those that love the new. His songwriting is on point, his voice is top notch, his piano-playing is simple yet sets the needed tone – in my personal taste, there really isn’t anything wrong with this album. Some could say it’s repetitive, but I don’t think so. I think the album is confident in what it is meant to deliver to listeners, and Jesso Jr. plays to his strengths perfectly, which is great considering this his debut full-length release. The only issue that could be brought up is whether his future albums could start sounding far too similar, if he were to go with the same piano-man, heartbreak style. Still, that sort of concern shouldn’t be brought up as negative critique of Goon.
Viet Cong – Self-Titled
I think alongside a couple other albums on this list (which I’ll let you know of a bit further down), Viet Cong brought one of the most memorable on this year’s short list. They’ve traveled into that realm of risk-taking to create something memorable, and for the most part, it worked. This particular song,Death, is a trip of its own – 11 minutes long, with hints of post-rock, punk and 80s/90s rock, I absolutely love it. It’s the sort of song you can get really deep into.
What I find especially interesting about Viet Cong’s self-titled album is that it offers subtle variety from track to track, not letting the listener pin down the album in a single light.
My Top 5 Albums + Who I Think Will Win
Okay, damn. That was a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be. Looking at the albums at first glance, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but there were some great quality tracks and albums on this list that caught me by suprise. My favourite album, though, which I personally think should win this year’s award is Tobias Jesso Jr.’s, Goon.
There were a couple others that gave it a fair fight, but I found myself always going back to Goon – it feels like the most standout, complete and alluring album of all.
Here are, in my opinion, the top 4 albums on the shortlist:
- Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon
- Viet Cong – Self-Titled
- Braids – Deep in the Iris
- Alvvays – Self-Titled
Best of luck for all on the shortlist and thanks to Polaris for putting this award together on a yearly basis.