This year’s Polaris Long List was announced yesterday, 40 albums selected by critics across the country, which will be narrowed down to a shortlist of 10 next month, and a winner chosen in September. Since Polaris started publicizing the long list a few years ago—previously only a shortlist was announced, full of mostly predictable consensus favourites—the discussion has been broadened, and many smaller records are vaulted into the national spotlight.
Though much of the list was pleasantly predictable during a musically strong year, I’ll confess that there are five albums on the long list that I have not yet heard. All of them were made available to the jury via downloads (the download list is dictated entirely by juror’s suggestions), but let’s be honest—barely anyone on the jury had the time to listen to all 150 or so albums that were made available to us. We also have to listen to music for our day jobs, and leave some time for pleasure, on top of our Polaris duties.
What did I skip out on? Dan Mangan, because I could never get past the first two songs. Winnipeg indie rockers Cannon Bros., because every descriptor I read about them sounded stuck in ’90s indie rock boredom. Ariane Moffatt, because I haven’t cared for what I’ve heard of her before, and also because this album also came out very recently. Toronto roots songwriter Lindi Ortega, because—well, I don’t know why. Saskatoon’s stoner rockers Shooting Guns because that genre generally bores me, frankly.
Overall I think it’s a fabulous list, representing so much that was great about the last 12 months of Canadian music, in many genres. The biggest shocker for me was seeing my championed dark horse, Mark Davis’s Eliminate the Toxins, appear on the list—I was sure I was ranting into a void on that one. (Even more shocking was one juror’s private admission that, even though he was a big fan of the record, he ended up leaving it off his ballot because he thought it didn’t have a chance—so who ended up voting for it other than myself and Brian Acker of Herohill, I have no idea.)
Who was robbed? Last year people were aghast that heavyweights like Sarah Harmer, Chad Van Gaalen and Drake were not on the long list. This year, it’s really only Elliott Brood fans that will be up in arms that their beloved (and overrated) band, who were shortlisted for a previous album, was shut out. Radio Radio, another previous shortlister—who put out a better record this time—was also nowhere to be found.
I’m a huge fan of moody new Toronto band Del Bel, and their excellent debut Oneiric almost made my ballot, but I knew they had little to no national traction—yet.
I wanted Sagot to score one of the franco slots over Arianne Moffatt or Marie-Pierre Arthur. This also almost made my ballot.
I was hoping that soul singer Melanie Fiona might get a nod, as her album is easily the best mainstream R&B record this country has seen in a long time (certainly the Grammys have noticed her).
Brasstronaut put out a fine record that deserves recognition, although admittedly it’s just short of greatness, and I know it was a runner-up on several jurors’ ballots.
I thought Cancer Bats were a surefire shoo-in for the aggressive set. The Pack A.D. also put out an explosive record that I thought might rally the rock crowd. Mike O’Neill and Islands also had solid records.
The regional breakdown this year looks like this:
Toronto: 13 (is this the first year Toronto trumped Montreal?)
Montreal: 11 (franco: 4, although Ariane Moffatt now sings in English)
Vancouver: 4 (I blame high rents)
Edmonton: 2 (though Cadence Weapon now lives in Montreal)
Calgary: 1 (why does the new power centre of Canada have so little great music?)
Saskatoon: 1 (I believe it’s the first time this city has made the list)
Genre-wise, I’d put 15 of the 40 acts in a broad pop/rock/indie category, which covers everything from Cannon Bros to Leonard Cohen.
Roughly roots-based acts, covering everything from Cold Specks to Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, pull a lucky number 13.
Four hip-hop/R&B records (Cadence Weapon, Drake, Slakadeliqs, The Weeknd)
Four electronic records (Azari and III, A Tribe Called Red, arguably Rich Aucoin, arguably Grimes)
Four albums from the heavy end of the spectrum (Fucked Up, Mares of Thrace, Shooting Guns, arguably Yamantaka/Sonic Titan)
Three albums are sung entirely in French
Two artists have won the Polaris Prize before (Fucked Up, Patrick Watson)
Including those two, 11 artists have been shortlisted before (this includes the Weakerthans’ John K. Samson and Handsome Furs' Dan Boeckner, with Wolf Parade)
To my memory, only seven artists outside those 10 has made the long list.
To my knowledge, there are 10 debut albums on the list.
To my knowledge, three of these artists are over 40. One of them is over 70.
I will be seen projectile vomiting in public if the shortlist looks like this:
Cannon Bros: I’m trying to forget much of the ’90s, thanks.
Cold Specks: Amazing voice, but it’s far too soon and the songs are not there.
Drake: I can’t believe so many intelligent people take this jackass seriously.
Fucked Up: If you’re going to write a rock opera, I have to understand the words—I don’t care how old that makes me sound. Nice guitars, though.
Great Lake Swimmers: This marks the first-ever stumble by this otherwise longtime favourite of mine, devoid of the magic they’ve always had.
Dan Mangan: If I manage to stay awake during the course of this album, I’ll provide valid reasons why I don’t like it.
Parlovr: Does anyone over 25 think this band is better than just a fun night at a bar?
Joel Plaskett: Good album, but I fear this man gets points just for showing up.
Slakadeliqs: I’m not convinced this is any better than late-period Lenny Kravitz, which is what I think it is every time it shuffles up on my iPod.
Patrick Watson: It’s his first album I actually enjoy, though, like Plaskett, I’d hate to think anyone gets a free pass onto the shortlist.
Beyond that, the next three months will give plenty of Canadian music fans lots to talk about—which is the whole point of Polaris in the first place.