Monday, June 16, 2014

Pretending to predict the Polaris 2014 long list

The Polaris Prize long list will be announced on Thursday: 40 albums released between June 1, 2013 and May 31, 2014 voted on by over 200 music critics and DJs (including myself) across Canada. From there, a shortlist will be chosen on July 15 and a winner, who will take home $30,000, is announced September 22.

When I was on the Polaris Prize grand jury in 2012, I saw in a room with 10 other jurors and argued until we all chose Feist's Metals as the winner. Dominating the discussion outside the jury room that year, however, was Drake: Take Care was certainly the most commercially and critically successful album of the year; if it had won, it would have been the first hip-hop album to take Polaris.

(A quick aside: Since 2012, I haven't been able to listen to any of that year's 10 nominated albums, because I played them to death leading up to jury deliberations. I put on Metals last week and it sounded fabulous.)

This year, Drake’s follow-up to Take Care, Nothing Was the Same, has the same level of buzz. Very little else does: his only real competition is Owen Pallett, the winner of the inaugural Polaris back in 2006, whose new album, In Conflict, is almost unanimously praised as being his best; the dark horse is Tanya Tagaq, the wildly experimental Inuit throat singer whose new album, Animism, has drooling critics tripping over their dictionaries trying to find new ways to describe the indescribable.

Outside of those three, it’s anyone’s game. As I know from experience, anything else that shows up on the shortlist will be subject to careful scrutiny by the grand jury and has just as much of a shot at winning as the three I just mentioned. Polaris is ultimately a parlour game played out by those 11 people in the jury room; the significance of the winner means considerably less than the company they keep on the short and long lists.

I haven’t seen the long list yet. Like everyone else, I will see it on Thursday, June 19, when Polaris honcho Steve Jordan announces it from the National Music Centre in Calgary. I’ll be talking about it with Exclaim! Editor James Keast, Now Magazine’s Julia LeConte and CBC’s Lana Gay on a NXNE panel on Friday, June 20 at 1 p.m.

In advance of that, however, here are the 40 artists whose albums I figure will make the long list. This year, the long tail is longer than most, making most of these guesses stabs in the dark, based entirely on past juror behaviour, chatter in the jury’s private message board, and naïve hunches on my part. Take with several bags of salt.

36? - Where Do We Go From Here (independent)
AroarA - In the Pines (Club Roll)
Arcade Fire - Reflektor (Sonovox)
Austra - Olympia (Paper Bag)
BadBadNotGood - III (Arts and Crafts)
Braids - Flourish/Perish (Arbutus)
Basia Bulat - Tall Tall Shadow (Secret City)
Dead Obies - Montreal $ud (Bonsound)
Mac DeMarco - Salad Days (Captured Tracks)
Diana - Perpetual Surrender (Paper Bag)
Drake - Nothing Was the Same (Universal)
Kevin Drew - Darlings (Arts and Crafts)
Duck Sauce - Quack (Fool's Gold)
Egyptrixx - A/B Til Infinity (Night Slugs)
Freedom Writers - Now (independent)
Fresh Snow - I (Reel Cod)
Gorguts - Colored Sands (Season of Mist)
Hidden Cameras - Age (Evil Evil)
Jimmy Hunt - Maladie d'amour (Grosse Boite)
Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra - Habitat (Justin Time)
Jordan Klassen - Repentance (Nevado)
Jessy Lanza - Pull My Hair Back (Hyperdub)
Kalle Mattson - Someday the Moon Will Be Gold (Parliament of Trees)
Moonface - Julia With Blue Jeans On (Paper Bag)
Lindi Ortega - Tin Star (Last Gang)
Doug Paisley - Strong Feelings (No Quarter)
Owen Pallett - In Conflict (Secret City)
Pink Mountaintops - Get Back (Outside)
Pup - s/t (Royal Mountain)
Sadies - Internal Sounds (Outside)
Shad - Flying Colours (Black Box)
Shooting Guns - Brotherhood of the Ram (independent)
Slakah the Beatchild - Soul Movement Vol. 2 (BBE)
Rae Spoon - My Prairie Home (Saved By Radio)
Strumbellas - We Still Move on the Dance Floor (Six Shooter)
Tanya Tagaq - Animism (Six Shooter)
Timber Timbre - Hot Dreams (Arts and Crafts)
Chad Van Gaalen - Shrink Dust (Flemish Eye)
Bry Webb - Free Will (Idée Fixe)
Yamantaka/Sonic Titan - Uzu (Paper Bag)

How does that break down geographically? Based on primary residence, to the best of my knowledge:

Toronto: 17
Montreal: 6
Montreal/Toronto: 2 (AroarA, Yamantaka)
Montreal/Calgary: 2 (Braids, Rae Spoon)
Vancouver: 3
Calgary: 2
Guelph: 1
Hamilton: 1
Sherbrooke: 1
Ottawa: 1
Edmonton/Montreal/Brooklyn/transient: 1 (Mac DeMarco)
Saskatoon: 1
Cambridge Bay/Brandon: 1 (Tanya Tagaq)
Toronto/Nashville: 1 (Lindi Ortega)

Women: 9
Trans: 1

Pop/rock: 19
Hip-hop: 6
Roots: 6
Metal: 3
Electronic: 3 
Jazz: 2 
Experimental: 1

Franco: 2 (Dead Obies, Jimmy Hunt)

Of all these, only three have been played on mainstream radio, to my knowledge (Arcade Fire, Drake, Duck Sauce)

Once the long list is announced, jurors are allowed to alter their ballots, either because some of their acts didn’t make the long list, or, well, just because. Barring any major upswell for an underdog long-list artist benefiting from the added exposure—which I wouldn’t rule out, based on this year’s long tail—here’s my shortlist prediction:

Basia Bulat
Mac DeMarco
Owen Pallett
Rae Spoon
Tanya Tagaq
Yamantaka/Sonic Titan

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