The 11th Polaris Music Prize gala is on Monday, Sept. 19, at the Carlu in Toronto, where 11 jurors locked in a room will decide which one of these 10 artists will get $50,000 and a gig with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 2016. All other nominees receive $3,000.
Every day this week I’ll look at two of the shortlisted albums, assess their chances, and celebrate two albums that didn’t make the short list—or, in some cases, even the long list.
Püp – The Dream is Over (Royal Mountain)
The chances: Depends on if the median age of the grand jury is under 30. (It is not.)
Andy Shauf – The Party (Arts and Crafts)
This is a very nice record.
The chances: Depends on if the median age of the grand jury is over 40.
The could’ve, should’ve beens:
Michelle McAdorey – In Her Future (DWR)
My October review:
Fans of Crash Vegas—a brilliant and oft-overlooked Toronto band who released three classic albums between 1989 and 1995—might well have been wondering what the future might hold for singer Michelle McAdorey. This is the first new music from her in 10 years, following two very low-key and experimental records in the early 2000s. Into Her Future finds her teaming up once again with Blue Rodeo’s Greg Keelor—with whom she founded Crash Vegas in 1988; he left when they became too busy—and returning from her more experimental forays back toward the dusky, psychedelic country ballads that comprised some of Crash Vegas’s most compelling moments. This is a record as quiet as it is sleepy, with one or two exceptions. McAdorey and Keelor get as trippy as they wanna be—if it wasn’t all so well-executed, you might think it was made over a lost weekend on Keelor’s farm under a haze of smoke. She’s no longer a steely-eyed rocker, but her voice is as riveting as ever—McAdorey has been dearly missed.
Read my interview with McAdorey here. It’s one my favourite conversations of recent years, and a teenage dream come true.
Why it didn’t make the shortlist: I feel like one of the only critics still working who even remembers Crash Vegas (shout out to Aaron Brophy, Sarah Liss, Sarah Greene, Tabassum Siddiqui, Mark Rheaume and Roch Parisien). The albums have been out of print for decades; they’re not even on YouTube, although 1992’s Stone showed up on Spotify recently for some reason. McAdorey hadn’t played live in years, so her profile even in her hometown of Toronto was low. Sadly, the world was not clamouring for a new McAdorey record. The fact it catapulted onto the long list (where she was the second-oldest nominee, after Art Bergmann) was a huge victory in itself, hopefully providing as a wakeup call to latent Crash Vegas fans that this record exists.
Tami Neilson – Dynamite! (Outside)
My September review:
The hottest country artist from New Zealand is Canadian. Tami Neilson grew up playing in her family band—that would be the Neilsons—in Canada in the 1990s, before moving to New Zealand to start her adult career. There, she’s won no fewer than five nods for Country Album of the Year at that nation’s equivalent of the Junos or Grammys, among other laurels. This, however, is the first time one of her solo records is getting a Canadian release. It couldn’t possibly be a better introduction. Neilson is a throwback; everything here is steeped in ’50s rockabilly and Nashville, and she’s got it down pat: the bare-bones production, the ace band, and a showstopper of a voice that could fill any room without a microphone. Her lyrics might be well-worn tropes—songs about a heart the size of Texas and lipstick on your collar—but the melodies, arrangements, and especially her vocals are all fantastic.
Why it didn’t even make the long list: Traditional country doesn’t go far in Polaris, and there’s nothing remotely modern about this record. If, 32 years ago, a certain Canadian superstar hadn’t already claimed to be the reincarnation of Patsy Cline, Neilson might well make the same claim. Anyone with fond memories of the first Neko Case record or who want Lindi Ortega to record with the Sadies would do well to knock on Neilson’s door. Dynamite! was a Canadian re-release of her latest album in New Zealand; she has a brand new record out this month, which you can stream at CBC Music here.
Tomorrow: U.S. Girls, White Lung