With the short list announced coincidentally close to Canada Day, the Polaris Music Prize has been cleverly disguised as an icon of national pride. The saga of Polaris says that not only are we geographically gargantuan as a nation, but musically we’re in fine proportion to our size. It takes time to look at all the details, since we as a nation put out an obscene amount of music, but an award like Polaris gives us great cause to wear out our Canadian vinyl through the summer months. From the Besnard Lakes to Broken Social Scene and from Shad to the Sadies, the short list has once again rolled out a tight batch of competition spanning a wide array of genres. Splicing and comparing the ten albums selected for the short list this year can be a daunting task, so we at Ca Va Cool have decided to divide and conquer, to leave you more time to enjoy and celebrate not only the ten albums on the short list or the forty albums on the long list, but as many Canadian albums from the past year as you possibly can.

Broken Social Scene – All to All
Radio Radio – Tomtom
Shad – Rose Garden

Photograph by Chris Gergley

The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night (Jagjaguwar)

If there’s a dark horse in the Polaris race, it may just be the Besnard Lakes. The second-time shortlist nominees are once again looking to take home the big prize. An album blending shoegaze, progressive rock, and psychedelic rock, The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night harkens back to the 1970s, drawing comparisons to bands like Fleetwood Mac and the Alan Parsons Project. Husband-and-wife team  Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas trade vocals throughout.  Goreas takes centre stage on album highlight ’Albatross’, bursting through the droning guitars, singing of a heartfelt remembrance of an age long since passed. ‘And This Is What We Call Progress’ eschews that beauty, preferring a condemnation of the darkness of the surrounding world, soundtracked by a workman-like drumbeat and some of the sweetest guitar licks heard since the days of classic rock. Their world is on fire, and the Besnard Lakes channel that intensity into 10 tracks of Polaris-worthy goodness. — Kevin Kania

The Besnard Lakes – And This Is What We Call Progress

Photograph by Norman Wong

Broken Social SceneForgiveness Rock Record (Arts & Crafts)

I’m of two minds about Forgiveness Rock Record, the record and it’s Polaris nomination. It’s probably me just projecting my feelings on to others, but it often feels like the jury is trying to retroactively reward some bands’ past creativity on albums that predate the prize’s inception. Recent Twi-hard inductees, Metric, were nominated for both Live It Out and Fantasies, both uninspired, regurgitated, synth-pop when they could have been acknowledged for their two previous albums which you could at least dance to if not mope over privately. The other band in this situation is Broken Social Scene, additionally nominated for their self-titled 2005 album. Forgiveness by most measures is a solid rock album, and stays true to form, but it is not the material that got the band to where they are today. The characteristic yelps of backstage bandmates remain, but the hooks are tired. In the early 2000’s Canadians were seeking a new sound and BSS delivered, but now that sound has gone stale and it’s the other bands on this list who are pushing things forward. Broken Social Scene, like Metric, plowed their way on to the shortlist but only on old momentum and by virtue of their Canadian indie rock royalty status. I doubt they’ll win, but I don’t doubt they’ll be back here with another album. Polaris purgatory. — Justin Everett

Broken Social Scene – All to All

CaribouSwim (Merge Records)

Will the Polaris jury award another prize to Caribou? Having already won the 2008 prize for his previous release Andorra, the outlook is not so good. Honestly, looking at it in terms of another annual award of debatable importance, if decided the winner, with two of the total five wins, Dan Snaith will effectively become the Walt Disney of the Polaris Music Prize. But if that decision is based on merit alone, there has been no album released in the last year which even approaches the artistic triumph that Snaith has created here. Maybe it was his growing obsession with Detroit techno or the influence of friends such as electronic music pioneers Kieran Hebden, Junior Boys, and Fuck Buttons, but whatever prompted Snaith to add a dance element to his highly-tuned ear for psychedelic dream pop is surely more than welcome. Like his posse’s cuts, Swim isn’t an album designed for the dancefloor (though I would suggest it), in true Caribou form, it’s an instantly catchy and concise nine tracks, which reveal the layers of their brilliance with each repeated listen. So will it be chosen as the best Canadian album of the last year? Who cares? It’s the best album of the last year, period. — Daniel Hernandez

Caribou – Kaili

KarkwaLes Chemins de Verre (Audiogram)

Will the Polaris jury finally recognize the efforts of a French-Canadian artist? Drawing the short straw among the writers, I assumed I was going to be writing the token blurb for the token Québecois band on the short list. But somewhere along my journey down Les Chemins de Verre I was forced to cast off some of my prejudices, many of which were unfairly formed by previous lackluster Polaris nominee, Malajube. The first track to grab me, ‘Marie, Tu Pleurs’ seems to have found a happy medium between the loose-strumming energy of Blitzen Trapper’s ‘Furr’ and the spacious melancholy of Bon Iver’s ‘Skinny Love’. Les Chemins manages to weave through the indie-folk trappings without getting trapped. The variety and texture of percussion found throughout the album is reminiscent of fellow Montréaler Patrick Watson, who actually guests on the group’s previous effort Le Volume du Vent. French language aside, lead guitarist and vocalist Louis-Jean Cormier is a dead ringer for Watson when the softer, higher notes are what he’s going for, but on Les Chemins it’s never long before another twist or turn. — Justin Everett

Karkwa – Marie, Tu Pleurs

Photograph by Jonathan Taggart

Dan Mangan – Nice, Nice, Very Nice (Arts & Crafts)

Keeping in mind the Polaris jury’s tendency to cream their jeans for nearly anything on Arts & Crafts, I have to assume that they nominated Dan Mangan’s maudlin Nice, Nice, Very Nice on tradition alone. Naming your album in reference to a seminal work of art (in this case, Kurt Vonnegut’s 1963 novel Cat’s Cradle) is always a risky business, but it especially works to Mangan’s disadvantage here, where the album’s title appears to be a celebration of it’s own saccharine irrelevance. While Mangan’s got some chops in the studio and the album has a polished folksiness tailor made for the adult alternative crowd, the songs are quickly bogged down by Mangan’s weak writing. Featuring cringe-worthy observations such as “your robot heart is bleeding” and “I don’t want to be just a wasted puzzle piece,” the album’s sentiment is all too enamored with tired singer-songwriter clichés. The effort would have been more palatable had Mangan focused on some sort of cohesive narrative, but as is the songs come across as disjointed anecdotes backed by a motley crue of arrangements, without a decipherable thread binding the whole together. Dropping a $20,000 prize for a follow-up would just be more money spent on what is already little to say. — Wyndham Bettencourt-McCarthy

Dan Mangan – Robots

Photograph by Ryan Pfluger

Owen PalletHeartland (Domino Records)

Owen Pallett has done it once; now with four extra years of wisdom since his last triumph at Polaris he’s caught wise and changed pseudonyms. Did Final Fantasy become Owen Pallett in hopes of catching the Polaris Panel off guard? Was it because of copyright threats from Sephiroth? If he wins once more will Broken Social Scene grow bitter and renounce all arrangements that involve strings to focus on brass instead? Many of these questions will remain unanswered until the winner is announced in September, though in the meantime we can certainly appreciate the carefully woven tales of Lewis as he removes his shirt and takes action on Pallett’s Heartland. The record sounds more refined than Pallett’s previous gem He Poos Cloud – but refinement can be a fickle thing when it comes to Pallett’s composition since many of his records plead to be played in a bathtub filled with caviar, with a bottle of Bordeaux on hand and a smugness to contest that of the Monopoly Man. Despite this, Heartland comes through sincerely with Pallett’s crooning falsetto and sky high violin loops; in the best sense the albums is too pretentious for pretensions. If Heartland does go home a winner, it’ll be interesting to see how Pallett receives the prize considering he gave away the money from his last victory to bands in need of financial assistance since he was uncomfortable receiving a prize sponsored by a mobile phone conglomerate. Heartland is bound to raise a few monocles as yours truly will be cheering for Mr. Pallett in September because bands like Crystal Castles and Frog Eyes that didn’t make the cut could always use some extra funding from their pal Owen. — Jan Kucic-Riker

Owen Pallett – Lewis Takes Off His Shirt

Radio RadioBelmundo Regal (Bonsound Records)

Calling a record unique when it’s already being held amongst some of the most unique releases of the year, is an aggressive commendation. In this vein, I won’t qualify Radio Radio’s Belmundo Regal as such; rather, I think I’ll call it “uniquely Canadian”. In fact, if Canadian cult classic Bon Cop, Bad Cop were an album, it would be Belmundo Regal. Self-deprecating, seamlessly bilingual, and lyrically cosmopolitan, Radio Radio might be the Canadians best at tiptoeing the anglo-franco line since Trudeau. Sound unique? Did I mention that it’s also a hip-hop record? Self-appointing their music as “intellectual bitch rap” on album stand-out ‘Tomtom’, Belmundo features poignant commentary on consumerism, anti-environmentalism, girly-man-syndrome/homosexuality, packing guidelines and the swoon-worthy Kenny G. Their mixture of Quebecois slang and American hip hop staples like “chopped and screwed” vocal modulations and call-and-response make for some laughable moments on a record primarily comprised of light, party music. Where the record falls short is on the production side, with beats that lack the hard-hitting punch or instrumental variation to make any track particularly distinct or memorable. Belmundo Regal ends up getting my mind moving, but not my body, which is problematic when considered in the context of its genre. Hopefully with the Polaris-birthed exposure coming their way in the next few months, they’ll be able to get some better producers behind the decks to assist on future records. — Sal Patel

Radio Radio – Tomtom

Photograph by Beth Hammill

The SadiesDarker Circles (Outside Music)

With their aptly titled Darker Circles, Toronto’s country rock darlings The Sadies dropped their merry hoedown temperaments for a more serious record, or at the very least substituted their Prozac with downers and psychoactives. The twang is still there, but the group has nudged stylistically toward a marriage of progressive rock and psychedelia, hence the poor drug metaphor. Several tracks (‘Another Day Again’) bound along in densely packed and rambling melodies with anthemic guitar riffs reminiscent of Nuggets-era garage. Maybe even better are their dark forays into dreamy nostalgia, such as in ‘The Quiet One’. While the arrangement and concept are engaging, they have still retained the earnestly (often unfortunately) literal lyrics that mainstream country bands bear as earmarks. Also, a few inconsistent ballads fall off of the leitmotif melodies and lack the ’60s jam charm, particularly in the latter half. This album may not be award-worthy, but instead could act as the fork in the road for The Sadies: diverging between a path of engaging the independent music community à la Wilco, and another route beaten by Blue Rodeo toward prolific yet unremarkable folk rock. — Sabrina Diemert

ShadTSOL (Black Box Recordings)

2010 will go down as being a huge year for Canadian Hip-Hop. Unfortunately, that has nothing to do with Shad K’s third LP TSOL. Few records will sell as much as Drake’s fussed-about and hyped debut this year, Thank Me Later, and even fewer will remind the masses so explicitly that Canada still exists despite Shania’s radio-silence. Living in the shadow of Drake’s monolithic presence, however, actually defines and empowers Shad’s record regardless of stature or record sale tallies. “Maybe I’m not big cause I don’t blog or twitter / dog, I’m bitter” he raps at the opening of first single ‘Yaa I Get It’. After three albums of outstanding material, Shad expunges this bitterness, with a free-form take-no-prisoners flow on this single, but shows trademark versatility in transitioning to introspective trance on tracks like ‘Lucky 1s’ and then to what must be his poppiest song yet, ‘Rose Garden’, assisted by Broken Social Scene’s Lisa Lobsinger. Showcasing the finest production that Shad’s ever rapped over, and continued fantastic rhymes, TSOL is my pick this year. Polaris Jury, don’t wait til later, thank him now. — Sal Patel

Shad – Rose Garden

Photograph by Pamela Littky

Tegan and SaraSainthood (Sire Records)

After The Con was somehow left off 2008’s shortlist, the twin sisters from Calgary are vindicated with the nomination of this year’s Sainthood. The title, taken from a Leonard Cohen lyric, reflects the pretenses and ideals that come with the pursuit of a relationship. As a result, Tegan and Sara deliver a brutally honest album filled with longing and unrequited love. The relentless ‘Hell’ marks the most memorable moment, containing a desperate plea making one of the more memorable choruses of the past year. The desire to be loved is a theme that is hammered constantly throughout the album, whether it’s out of desperation as on ‘The Ocean’ or inevitability suggested on ‘Someday’. At points that desire becomes almost delusional, but as a credit to their lyrical talents, neither Tegan nor Sara sounds insincere. Tegan and Sara have been writing and performing since their mid-teens, evolving from their beginnings as an acoustic folk-pop duo to the fuller, slightly electronic sounds of today. This is a pair of talented ladies who wouldn’t look out of place on the Polaris podium. — Kevin Kania

Tegan and Sara – Hell

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— , July 31, 2010    8 Comments
Comments:

so… who does everyone think is going to win??

Shad, Sadies or BSS is what I say!

— Sal Patel, August 2, 2010

I can’t stop listening to TSOL, but obviously it’s that or Caribou for my money.

— Daniel Hernandez, August 2, 2010

PS reverie sound revue may have been shunned by polaris, but Lisa Lobsinger has the highest chance of “winning” of anyone here. I didn’t realize she was on Rose Garden sal, thanks for the tip.

— Daniel Hernandez, August 2, 2010

Despite the obviousness of it, the album I’ve listened to and enjoyed the most from this list is Forgiveness Rock Record. Forget past accomplishments, BSS deserves it.

Kevin Kania, August 2, 2010

She’s also on ‘Telephone’ and ‘Lucky 1s’.

Brandon Canning’s odds are also spread-out. He provided instrumentation on Shad’s ‘Intro’ (primarily guitar-driven distortion) and co-produced ‘Lucky 1s’.

As it turns out, after Shad moved out West to go back to school, he started going into a studio that Canning goes into fairly regularly in Vancouver. They got familiar, and then the cross-pollination occurred.

i agree with Justin’s point with-respect-to Metric, and remember arguing it a fair bit when Fantasies got a surprise nomination last year, but i can’t say i agree when it comes to BSS’ Forgivness Rock Record. It’s one of my favorite records of the year as well, and I think it deserves the accolades, regardless of past-efforts. Although, some form of retro-active prize should be awarded to You Forgot It In People.

— Sal Patel, August 2, 2010

shad or caribou for the win!

— dona, August 2, 2010

Didn’t Fucked Up win last year? Accordingly, my vote goes to Shad and Polaris jurors who are just really into surprises.

Robyn Smith, August 4, 2010

Karkwa wins.

Justin, what do you make of this? You’re probably the only one who has listened to the damned thing.

— Daniel Hernandez, September 21, 2010
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