Handsome Furs

A couple of weeks ago, the Polaris Music Prize announced its  long list of nominees for 2009. Each year the prize is awarded to the best Canadian album chosen by a jury of a hundred-odd music writers, editors and bloggers from all over the country. Any album produced in Canada within the last year by a Canadian band is eligible for nomination. How it goes is that jury members select their five favourite albums, and the top forty make the Polaris long list. A few weeks later, after the albums on the long list have been played repeatedly and agonized over, the Jury selects their top ten for the Polaris short list. This year the short list will be announced on July 7 and the grand prize, an amazing $20,000, will be awarded on September 21.

The Polaris Music Prize was started a mere three years ago in 2006. The very first winner of the prize was Final Fantasy for his album He Poos Clouds. Since then the contest has served to assist numerous Canadian artists by promoting their albums and giving a massive boost to its winners. In 2007, Patrick Watson won for his album Close to Paradise and in 2009 Caribou won for Andorra. Other giants have been included in the Polaris short list for their remarkable releases, including Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, Feist, Miracle Fortress, the New Pornographers, Sarah Harmer, the Weakerthans, and the list goes on and on.

This year’s long list features a ton of amazing Canadian talent. Many bands are fresh members of the music scene and many are well-established veterans. The Arkells, Beast, and Coeur de Pirate have all been nominated for debut albums, whereas Metric, The Stills, Martha Wainwright and Leonard Cohen are all recognized for their ongoing work. Patrick Watson is back with another album after his big win two years ago, as are Wolf Parade, Junior Boys, Joel Plaskett and Chad VanGaalen who also all made the short list in 2007. Finally, Ca Va Cool favourites Japandroids, Handsome Furs, and Pink Mountaintops made this year’s long list, much to Ca Va pride.

I have to admit, when I saw this year’s long list just last Tuesday (feels like a lifetime ago) I was a little shocked. Seriously. My mouth was hanging open. I didn’t realize how much music had cropped up in the past year on Canadian soil; there were a lot of names I didn’t recognize and even more albums I hadn’t heard. I had some listening to do. Ten days later (and maybe a bit of sleep), I’ve managed to not only listen to, but also appreciate and digest forty fabulous albums of pure Canadian talent. And I am blown away. There is so much going on in the Canadian music scene that needs to be talked about! Each of these bands deserves to win this prize for their hard work and love for what they do. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve won it already simply by being nominated. So a big congratulations to everyone that made this list. You deserve it!

That said, it was my mission to choose a handful of albums to make up a short-list of my own. I spent a lot of time and energy going through the entire long list, pulling out which albums I felt deserved extra mention. It was an exceedingly hard task, and choosing was not something I did willingly. But it was done and here is my short list:

Women

Women – Women

Women’s self-titled debut album is totally insane. As in, insanely good. This Calgary-based band has tons going on and listening to them is like attending a great big party where everybody knows your name. So much is happening. The drummer is especially phenomenal and at times I could almost swear more than one song is being played. Their music style is like nothing else; maybe more experimental jazz-rock than anything?. From start to finish the album is succinct and the music completely awe-inspiring.

Women – Lawncare

Bell Orchestre

Bell Orchestre – As Seen Through Glass Windows

Bell Orchestre is Richard Reed Parry, Sarah Neufeld (both of Arcade Fire), Stefan Schneider (the Luyas), Pietro Amato (Torngat, the Luyas), Kaveh Nabatian, and Mike Feuerstack (Snailhouse). As Seen Through Windows is the group’s second album and an utterly raw and compelling piece of art. My first experience seeing Bell Orchestre was some two years ago and I remember remarking then how they were the most intent and passionate musicians I had ever seen. They maintain that same intensity with this album; it is stirring, provocative and deep; a complete intellectual treat. Listening is like chewing over a book of poems by Wordsworth.

Bell Orchestre – Icicles/Bicycles

Coeur de Pirate

Coeur de Pirate – Coeur de Pirate

Nineteen-year old Beatrice Martin aka Coeur de Pirate is a fresh new face to the Canadian music scene. She has been playing the piano since the age of three and is my absolute favourite for the Polaris Music Prize this year. Her debut album showcases expert songwriting and musical talent, her primary instruments being the piano which she plays effortlessly and her voice which is refreshingly soft. Other instruments such as the accordion, banjo and violin are brought in regularly to add a delightful flavour of French folk; the result is an absolutely beautiful, unaffected album.

Coeur de Pirate – Comme des Enfants

K-Os

K-Os – Yes

K-Os’s album Yes is an excellent contribution to Canadian music as a whole. K-Os (Rapper Kevin Brereton of Toronto) chooses not to define his music based on any one genre, and I would agree; it showcases a mix of tastes that is broadly accessible to a wide variety of audiences and is difficult to categorize definitively. Open and honest, Yes is especially striking for its musical complexity and grace. Every track brings something fresh and the arrangements are genius. K-Os raps about his ethics, his place in the world and the music scene, and relationships lost, for which he is open and unapologetic. I’m hooked on this album, and especially this single ‘The Aviator’ which I’ve played on repeat often:

K-Os – The Aviator

Bruce Peninsula

Bruce Peninsula – A Mountain Is a Mouth

I think that Bruce Peninsula is a definite contender for the Polaris short-list. An essentially brand new band from Toronto (this is their debut LP), they are unique, talented and very Canadian. A Mountain is a Mouth is a carefully written album with arrangements that feel like they could be part of the regional music in any part of the country. This band and this album are of sheer geographic proportion. Check out the spotlight done on them recently, and this amazing track:

Bruce Peninsula – Steamroller

Handsome Furs

Handsome Furs – Face Control

Montreal natives Dan Boeckner and wife Alexei Perri’s latest album is super solid. It is a definite Ca Va Cool favourite and easily one of the best albums released in the past year – Canadian or otherwise. I had the opportunity to see the Handsome Furs when they first performed these songs. It was last summer at an intimate little venue that was not used to such strain on the power supply – the high energy and awesome sound were just too much for the little power box to handle and it kept shorting. Of course the show was still utterly amazing. Even now this album remains the number one cause of me dancing at work by myself. It was tricky to find just one track to share, but here it is:

Handsome Furs – All We Want Baby Is Everything

Junior Boys

Junior Boys – Begone Dull Care

Since 2003 Hamilton’s Jeremy Greenspan and Matt Didemus have been making phenomonal music. In 2007 they made the Polaris short list for their album So This Is Goodbye, and their new album Begone Dull Care is sure to be on the list for 2009. Begone is an album that is near-impeccable. As artists, Junior Boys have astonishing musical intuition; each note, each beat, each voice are placed perfectly in the most incredibly pleasing combination. This album is sexy, calming and invigorating all at once. ‘Parallel Lines’ will leave you wanting more:

Junior Boys – Parallel Lines

Chad VanGaalen

Chad VanGaalen – Soft Airplane

Calgary-based Chad VanGaalen returns to Polaris, having been honoured in 2007 as a short-list nominee for his album Skelliconnection. Soft Airplane is another masterpiece and an album I have a lot of respect for. When I first heard Soft Airplane I didn’t love it immediately, but I found myself going back to it again and again. It’s that perfect kind of album that may be hard to appreciate at first but grows on you over time, each listen revealing new layers and complexities that pull you deeper and deeper into the music’s depths. The best delayed reward; it’s love now. I’ll be listening to this album for years.

Chad VanGaalen – TMNT Mask

Jill Barber

Jill Barber – Chances

Jill Barber’s latest album Chances is a departure from the folk-acoustic sounds we’re used to hearing from her, but Chances is truly a musical breakthrough. Sultry, honest and charming, this album is open and intimate, friendly and accessible. Barber has managed to turn music reminiscent of different eras and introduce it to a modern-contemporary audience. Some tracks evoke images of 50’s era television specials; others, images of gramophones; and still others, images of 30’s jazz clubs. My Dad is a fan.

Unfortunately, due either to my lack of internet savvy or because it’s actually not out there, there is no sample to be made available directly from Ca Va Cool. But check out her myspace.

X – x

This tenth placing is for every other Canadian album out there. There are many bands that weren’t nominated because they don’t have the press, and there are many nominees I didn’t pick for my short list because there’s not enough room. But whether on my short list or not; whether on the Polaris long list or not, I know that every album put together by anyone is deserving of $20,000 solely for the time, energy and care put into its creation. I’m glad you’re out there doing what you love. Just be sure you come play a show in my town when I’m not working and we’ll be good.

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— , July 1, 2009    27 Comments
Comments:

My favourite album nominated this year is definitely Face Control by Handsome Furs. Just like with ‘Little Jabs’ by Two Hours Traffic last year, it’s a long shot.

If Joel Plaskett wins for ‘Three’, I’m going to discredit the prize altogether. Some great picks in past years though, but I haven’t listened to Patrick Watson.

— Daniel, July 2, 2009

Of all the albums nominated, I’ve enjoyed the Stills’ the most. They obviously won’t win.

I’m picking Malajube as a dark horse candidate. Solid album.

Kevin, July 2, 2009

My dark horse is Coeur de Pirate. I’m as enamored with her as I was with Lykke circa ’07.

— Sal, July 3, 2009

i’m in love with patrick watson’s new album, wooden arms. i know he won a few years ago but imo wooden arms is even better than close to paradise! maybe another win? gaaah i love jb and coeur de pirate too. tough choices this year…

— dona, July 3, 2009

I really wish The Rural Alberta Advantage would’ve made an appearance, but their album was just properly released on Saddle Creek. My vote goes to Japandroids although Woodpigeon is a folk hurricane of amazing.

— Jan, July 5, 2009

The shortlist is out:

http://tinyurl.com/nehuev

— Coco, July 7, 2009

Whoa, Malajube made the cut!
And Metric is there for some reason. Weird.

Kevin, July 7, 2009

Wow! Shortlist out today.

Chad VanGaalen is up there – the only one of my favourites. Daniel, Joel Plaskett’s Three made it.. but Malajube made it for Kevin and Patrick Watson for Dona.

I’m floored that Coeur de Pirate, Handsome Furs and Bell Orchestre aren’t there. Elliot Brood and Great Lake Swimmers made the list – both very solid albums that I really enjoyed – and Metric made it, which I found surprising. While it has the odd single, I don’t think this album is nearly as good as their earlier work.

And dona, is Patrick Watson the kind of love that grows? I’ve been trying to figure both of their albums out, but it hasn’t happened yet.

— Megan, July 7, 2009

This is the official list:

http://www.polarismusicprize.ca/2009shortlist/

— Megan, July 7, 2009

I almost feel like Metric is on there as a tip of the hat to their earlier albums, which were released in a pre-Polaris world. I don’t think Fantasies deserves to have made the cut.

Totally agree that Bell Orchestre and Handsome Furs should have made it, and I was really hoping for Coeur de Pirate…

I’m actually one of the few that enjoyed Watson’s last album, but I don’t think the new one is as good. It certainly creates an atmosphere, but one of the things I did with the last one was listen to it before sleeping. Warning: do not do this with the new record. You’ll have terrible terrible acid flashbacks.

So who are we pulling for? Malajube? Hey Rosetta? Great Lake Swimmers?

I didn’t really dig K’Naan until I saw him at Rock the Bells this past weekend … he’s now a maybe for me.

— Sal, July 7, 2009

ok after actually looking at the long list and comparing it to who made it on the shortlist…i all of a sudden feel like this is the junos! why is metric there?!?!

also, i’m shocked that beast didn’t make it…imo one of the best albums released last year and they KILL live too. and junior boys, bell orchestre and land of talk didn’t make it either…

i’d say it took me a few listens before i began to love watson’s music, it was his voice that kept me in it. close to paradise is great but i think wooden arms is much better…i luuuuuurve the new album. i listened to it repeatedly in the past weeks, walking down sunny streets and you can’t help but smile. i also saw him a few days ago at the jazz fest and he was incredible. give wooden arms at least a few listens!

i like k’naan but i don’t think he’ll win. imo his previous album was better. i think malajube and watson are the strongest contenders out of all of them. i’ll be pulling for these two as well.

— dona, July 7, 2009

Whoa whoa whoa, Junos? I’ve yet to see the likes of Nickelback and Hedley among the nominees. Saying that does a disservice to the bands that made the Shortlist.

Sure Metric’s a questionable inclusion, but as Sal said, it’s likely based on prior material. You could make that same case for Joel Plaskett as well.

Folk’s apparently the theme this year.
I’d be happiest if Malajube or Elliot Brood took the prize.

Kevin, July 7, 2009

Scratch that, Live it Out made the Shortlist in the inaugural year.

Kevin, July 7, 2009

I’m thinking I’m hoping most for Chad VanGaalen or Great Lake Swimmers. Folk is definitely the theme, but I’d be amazed if Patrick Watson won again.

The thing that gets me about Patrick Watson, aside from this mental block with the music I continue to have, is that the band calls themselves Patrick Watson – it isn’t a solo project, they are referred to in the plural. Of course, it IS the lead singer’s name. Also among their press photos is one of all four of them peeing at the side of the road. Frontal view. PG but still cocky. Pun intended.

And I agree Dona, I expected Beast to make the cut. It didn’t top my faves because I felt the sucking power and eerieness too discomfiting, but I thought for sure it would be there.

Speaking of Junos, Coeur de Pirate received a nomination. Bah I say. What’s going on???

— Megan, July 7, 2009

I think what’s going on is that the Junos are trying hard to become more relevant, as they (a decade late) start to realize that the strength of Canadian music is in its fragmented, independent, community-based scenes, not its major label efforts. it’s all gonna break.

Also, stand corrected on the Metric opinion. Kevin, as always, sharp with the fact-checking. It just leaves me more surprised still that they’re on the list.

— Sal, July 8, 2009

hey megan, this interview a few years ago explains the whole patrick watson band name situation:

http://www.musicomh.com/music/features/patrick-watson_0807.htm

the next album is here and i guess they still haven’t figured out a band name! i’m not really sure they will since pw is relatively getting a bit more exposure now.

gaaah i love the eeriness of beast. i heart bonifassi’s voice and goncalves’ beat making genius. speaking of goncalves is also in this trip hop dubstep group called jedi electro, which is also worth checking out. it’s less eerie =)

i think you’re right, sal. the grammy’s sort of made that step toward relevancy last year…i guess the junos are starting to too.

— Dona, July 8, 2009

Yeah, I didn’t realize that 6 of the 10 have already been Shortlisted before, (Elliott BROOD, Great Lake Swimmers, Fucked Up and Hey Rosetta! are the newcomers.) Might signify something stale about the jury members, like the traditional newspaper types, but bloggers are getting more and more represented as well. I saw Chromewaves and I (Heart)Music in the jury, among others.

I feel like the newcomers (minus Fucked Up, I don’t know much about them) built up a lot of goodwill by touring the hell out of Canada over the years. I’m having a listen to the nominees I’ve missed.

Kevin, July 8, 2009

Thx Dona, that clears it up!

— Megan, July 8, 2009

To Jan, since I read entirely too much, the Rural Alberta Advantage disqualified themselves for this year’s award by self-releasing their album and selling it at shows early last year, thus being eligible for the 2008 Prize, but not the 2009.

Kevin, July 8, 2009

Well that’s a clever rule…

— Sal, July 8, 2009

Do you guys want to create the CVC Awards?

Once a year we can nominate indie rock/folk/shitgaze/etc. legends/losers to random categories and vote. Anyone have any ideas for categories?

— Daniel, July 8, 2009

LOVE that idea. Would it be a real prize though? Something with sponsors where the winner would receive some moneys? Or just some rocking awesome publicity?

— Megan, July 8, 2009

No money. Just respect.

— Daniel, July 8, 2009

I’ve known to many bands to go on the road and have no money to eat anything but oreos for supper. I will donate a bag of oreos.

— Megan, July 9, 2009

I will donate a cow, to provide milk, to consume the Oreos with.

— Sal, July 9, 2009

I will donate a 4L bag of milk, after they get too tired milking the cow, to consume the Oreos with.

— Dona, July 9, 2009

Love that Handsome Furs tune. Great post. Check out http://www.foilface.com – new 4 piece band from Manchester with a new free 6 track ep out called Jean-Claude Naive – think Modest Mouse, 4AD type thing ;)

— Dunstan, July 12, 2009