There has only ever been one francophone record to win the Polaris Music Prize: Karkwa’s Les Chemins de Verre, in 2010. It’s now been seven years since a francophone record has made the Polaris Music Prize shortlist, when Galaxie’s Tigre et diesel made the cut in 2011. Not even Coeur de Pirate has managed to break through, despite increasingly solid records and a large live draw outside of Quebec. Galaxie put out a pretty solid new record last year, but it didn’t land on the Polaris long list, announced last month. However, seven other francophone records did (as well as an instrumental record by a francophone, Jean-Michel Blais). Of those, I think Hubert Lenoir’s debut album is likely to shortlist, and I would love it if Lydia Képinski would as well.
The shortlist will be announced Tuesday, July 17.
I fully expect Daniel Caesar, Jeremy Dutcher, Lenoir, U.S. Girls and Weaves to shortlist. I’d place money on it. Usually 50% of the list is a relatively easy pick; the rest is a crapshoot.
I think it’s likely that Bonjay, Zaki Ibrahim, Pierre Kwenders and Partner will also shortlist, along with one record from the acoustic/songwriter contingent that will be either the Weather Station, Donovan Woods, or Jennifer Castle.
I’m basing these predictions on general chatter among Polaris jurors, as well as demographics and past history of voting patterns; there’s nothing scientific going on here. Sometimes the silent majority surprises me and a more mainstream pick makes the list: this year that would be either Alvvays or Gord Downie. Less likely silent majority picks would be Arcade Fire, Bahamas or Sloan.
I would love to be pleasantly surprised and see Cadence Weapon, Képinski or Terra Lightfoot make the shortlist. There’s also an extremely long shot that we might be talking about Vancouver hip-hop crew the Snotty Nose Rez Kids this time next week.
Anyway, back to the francophones. Among the long listed artists, I’ve been a fan of Kwenders for a while (I prefer his debut to this new one, though I’m in the minority there), and both the rapper Loud and Mélissa Laveaux (a Haitian-Canadian now living in Paris) are impressive. But these two debut records really blew me away–eventually, mind you, as they’re both growers. Give them your time.
These reviews will appear in the Waterloo Region Record on Friday July 13.
Hubert Lenoir – Darlène (Simone)
This 23-year-old put his punk band on hold to make a genre-bending pop album, based on a new novel by his friend Noémie D. Leclerc, where the first five tracks jump from jazz piano to ’70s glam to Black Sabbath to gospel-inspired pop to Fleetwood Mac, with plenty of tenor saxophone all over the arrangements, which occasionally nod to Joe Jackson’s 1984 album Body and Soul. It’s totally bonkers in a way that only the Québecois can pull off—or maybe the Flaming Lips, on a good day. Is it a retro record? Absolutely, but it’s also audacious in its scope, and Lenoir has the songwriting chops, the production values, plenty of earworms and the pure vocal charisma to pull it all off. I listened to this record for months before I sought out any video—and it turns out this androgynous singer has major starpower as well. And yes, francophobes, there is one song in English (“Wild and Free”), so you have no excuse not to start there and then dive deeper.
Stream: “Fille de personne II,” “Ton hotel,” “J-C”
Lydia Képinski – Premier juin (independent)
This 24-year-old Montrealer won the $10,000 Francouvertes prize last year for a new Quebec artist. Listening to her debut, it’s more than obvious why: she’s a fully-formed songwriter whose melodies verve in unusual directions, while her music rarely subscribes to conventional chord progressions and her arrangements combine the sparseness of indie-rock solo performers with lush arrangements and rich electronics—both of which are used sparingly. The focus is on Képinski’s remarkably nuanced and assured vocals. All of this displays not just remarkable talent, but a self-assuredness and confidence rarely heard on a debut record. This artist arrives as a complete package, sounding like she’s already conquered the world, even if the world doesn’t quite know it yet.
Stream: “Les routes indolores,” “Premier juin,” “Maïa”