The 2007 Polaris Music Prize is about to be awarded
by BrooklynVegan Mike
The 2007 Canadian Polaris Music Prize winner will be announced on September 24, 2007. Canadian resident BrooklynVegan Mike discusses the nominees, and who he thinks might walk away with the monetary prize. Note: He wrote this a few weeks ago - it's all still perfectly relevant, but worth keeping in mind......
The Polaris Music Prize is nigh. In its second year the judges have the task of not only picking a winner from a competitive field but also continuing the quality streak they started last year by selecting Final Fantasy's album He Poos Clouds. This year's nominees are a good mix of established acts (Arcade Fire, Feist), Canadian indie-rock lifers (The Dears, Julie Doiron), and some fresh faces (Miracle Fortress, The Besnard Lakes).
This is one humble writer's opinion on the likelihood of each band winning the prize, in descending order from less likely to most likely. Canadians take their national pride more seriously than I think the average American realizes, so when an award meant to represent the best of Canadian music is being awarded, nationalism does play a part. Of course, if prizes like this were based purely upon the music, then the winner and the nominees would look very different. What, no love for Handsome Furs, or Frog Eyes? Anyway, let's begin.
Let's dispense with the 700 pound elephant in the room. I don't think they are going to win, for a number of reasons. Mainly, as Cadence Weapon said in reference to Broken Social Scene's non-chances of winning at last years Polaris; "They win at everything....in life." The band is so huge in North America, let alone Canada, that I think voters will shy away from it. The second reason is tied to the first, and that is the fact that the prize money ($20,000 Canadian, which is as good as 20K American now because the exchange rate is awful) would be a great windfall for many of the bands nominated, and I am sure those judging will put that into account (no pun intended).
The final reason is the album itself. It is a very good album, but not a great album. Funeral was a cultural touchstone, and will be one of those albums that people will point to when thinking fondly of the first decade of the 21st century. It was the success, in part, of Funeral that led to the creation of the Polaris in the first place. Anything that isn't Funeral 2 will be dismissed by some people, no matter how good it is. I do think, however, they will get their fair share of first place votes, and therefore should be higher on this list, but not enough to win.
Now we have the opposite end of notoriety. When it comes to prizes like this, name value is a delicate balance; if a band is too popular (like Broken Social Scene, Wolf Parade, and The New Pornographers last year) the consensus is to not perpetuate it. Likewise, if a nominated artist is too below the radar, some voters, who are mainstream music journalists, will shy away from voting for them. Chad VanGaalen falls in the latter.
The bedroom multi-artist is a renaissance man, not only animating all of the videos himself but also creating some of the instruments used on his albums. Skelliconnection is a fun record, covering many genres - from 70s rock to melodic synth indie-pop - in his own style. However, he is a bit of an acquired taste - an unknown acquired taste, and that I think scuttles any chances of winning.
The Besnard Lakes
I'm sure every piece written about The Besnard Lakes in the last six months has made some (not so) clever allusion to the albums title The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse, and certainly a few more are to come before September 24th. The husband and wife duo of Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas craft atmospheric songs that channel classic 60s rock. They remind me of a less druggy Warlocks. Perhaps I am dismissing them because I'm not a fan of the album. They strike me as a band that would be much better to see live, but I think their prize was being nominated.
editor's note: I actually love the album, but was not a huge fan of their live show. :-)
Gang of Losers was one of my favorite albums last year. They opened their sound up, and (like Muse with Black Holes and Revelations) instead of thinking of them in terms of their influences, you listened to them as their own entity. It was a Dears album, plain and simple. Murray Lightburn and company turned those frowns upside down, and some of the songs - like "Ticket to Immortality" - have more of a life-affirming edge. As a long time Dears fan, I think Losers plays a perfect counterpart to their last effort.
If the Polaris existed three years ago - when No Cities Left would have been eligible, I think the Dears would already have one of these awards on their shelf. This year I feel the field is a little too crowded, and they will likely get lost in the shuffle.
Julie Doiron has been releasing music steadily, either as a solo artist or with Eric's Trip and the recently reunited Wooden Stars, for fifteen years. Woke Myself Up is a short album of subtle, mellow thoughts put to music. The perfect soundtrack for a rainy day. No song better captures this mood then "Me and My Friend," one of my favorite songs and videos this year. And though I recommend the album if you want a wistful half-hour, some of the albums nominated are so much more musically diverse and ambitious that I think voters will ultimately pass on it.
Patrick Watson, the band, wraps the Drake-ian vocals of Patrick Watson, the vocalist, in a cloak of baroque leanings and piano recitals. I discovered the band earlier this year and was surprised that there isn't more of a buzz surrounding them, especially seeing as how they carry the hallmarks (albeit differently) that many bands associate with the Canadian wave, such as fellow nominees The Dears and Arcade Fire. They are a "take 'em or leave 'em" kind of band. One listen to any of their songs and you will know immediately what to expect from their albums. However, if you enjoy those sounds, you are in for a treat because Close to Paradise doesn't falter.
The voters of the Polaris are music journalists and they can be just as prickly as their American brethren. Soccer moms (or hockey moms as they are called here) listen to Patrick Watson. Their music brings to mind Coldplay. These facts alone I think will hinder any chances this album of taking the prize, which is a shame because it is a very good album.
The Joel Plaskett Emergency
Though not as well known in America, Joel Plaskett is a popular artist in indie rock circles in Canada, first with his band Thrush Hermit, and now with his collaborative albums under his own moniker. Their sound brings to mind several disparate bands, such as Weezer and ELO. I think Plaskett has a decent shot because A) it's a good album, and B) If voters see this as an opportunity to push a long, under-appreciated artist into the limelight (and many voters certainly do), then Plaskett fits that mold.
Earlier this year I wrote a piece discussing some Montreal bands under the radar worth checking out at SXSW. Of those bands, two of them are nominated for the prize. One of them is Patrick Watson and the other is Miracle Fortress\ - Graham Van Pelt's moonlighting away from his other charge, Think About Life. There has been a larger than usual influx of Brian Wilson inspired music lately, from White Rabbits to Panda Bear, and Five Roses is one of the better examples of emulating the past along with a forward looking vision.
Critics reaction to this record has been very positive and many of the culture magazines in Canada, including Exclaim and The Hour have embraced the record. I think this record has a solid chance of walking away with the prize.
editor's note: I couldn't be happier that Miracle Fortress will be playing their first NYC show at the BrooklynVegan CMJ showcase at Bowery Ballroom.
Junior Boys stick out like a sore thumb among the nominees. They are the only artists with a heavy dance approach. Sure, Feist and Miracle Fortress have their moments, but So This Is Goodbye sounds solely created for sweat-soaked nights on the dance floor (or the bedroom). While I'm certainly not a dance expert like my colleague David Bruno, this year has seen a number of great dance/rock hybrid records. This, along with Justice and Klaxons at the top of the list. Who would think something like this would come from Hamilton, Ontario?
Standing out as they do among the other bands can be a double edged sword. On one hand, this gives them an upper hand and creates an opportunity to win judges over. On the other hand, certain judges may show an unwillingness to go against the grain. I believe being contrary to the other bands will actually be a benefit, and their name will be rumored come award time (Final Fantasy and Cadence Weapon were the two rumored "finalists" last year).
I know what I said about the Arcade Fire. And Leslie Feist's solo work along with her Broken Social Scene material certainly makes her a very established name in Canadian music, but there is a difference. Feist's appeal covers both Canadas (Franco and Anglo) of all ages. You are just as likely to hear "My Moon, My Man" booming from a car downtown, as you are to hear "So Sorry" coming from an elderly home (both occurrences which I have witnessed). Also, the CBC (co-sponsor of the award) look for any chance they can to play her music. Without trying, her music is all things to all people. And if they were judging this award by their videos, she would win running away.
And finally, the simple reason why I think she'll win is that among all of the albums nominated, I feel this is the best one. It's on the shortlist of great albums this year. It effortlessly moves from nu-disco dance numbers to contemplative acoustic ballads, all anchored by her beautiful voice. Though her image and music come across as very unassuming, she experiments a lot and puts out great music as a result. All hail Feist, my pick for the Polaris Music Prize!
Just one man's opinion.