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

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— , July 31, 2010    8 Comments

Photograph by Jonathan Taggart

Just over a week ago,  the long list for the 2010 Polaris Music Prize, honouring the year’s best Canadian album,  was announced. The eclectic mix of artists includes former Polaris winners Owen Pallett and Caribou, as well as an array of previous Shortlisters and newcomers to the award. Having only heard about a quarter of the albums on the list, it’s hard to say if there’s a frontrunner. Like Frank Yang over at Chromewaves, I was a big fan of Reverie Sound Revue, so that snub leaves me a little cold. Forgiveness Rock Record is undoubtedly the most widely heard nominee, but as Patrick Watson’s win in 2007 proved, the Polaris jury doesn’t take popularity under consideration. That said, I’ll be pulling for Basia Bulat. Heart of My Own is a pretty good album of pretty good folk. The list of forty will be narrowed down to ten on July 6th, with the winner to be revealed September 20th. Check after the break for the full long list, and enjoy some tracks from the nominees while debating your own personal shortlist.

Dan Mangan – Robots
Basia Bulat – Heart of My Own
Owen Pallett – Lewis Takes Off His Shirt

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— , June 30, 2010    Comments Off on Polaris Prize 2010 Long List Announced

Photograph by Sam Javanrouh

There’s a day in June that occupies a special place in Torontonians hearts every year. Originally known as the Olympic Island Festival, the recently re-named Toronto Island Concert, is what many of my friends call their “favourite day of the summer”. Curated by Broken Social Scene and their label Arts&Crafts, the day-long mini-fest takes place South of the city, just a few kilometres off-shore from Toronto’s modest and un-scenic harbourfront, on one of the city’s most heavily protected natural gems, Olympic Island. With only a community in the hundreds that inhabits the Toronto Islands, their parks are some of the city’s most beautiful, their few domiciles are some of the city’s most demanded and their concert is one of the city’s most memorable.

After a two-year break from any performances on the island, one because of an unfortunate scheduling conflict last year, and the other unexplained the year previous, the memories of the day are starting to get fuzzy. Remember the year when Feist opened and played all of ‘The Reminder’ before anyone knew that ‘1,2,3,4’ would be a Sesame Street jam? Or how about that year when Canada’s music scene was finally en vogue internationally, after over a decade of indie rock triumphs domestically? Remember how this celebration was marked by Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene being on the same bill, collectively shouting back at the world “the kings are taking back their throne,” a phrase which packed so much punch, years before it found its home on Neon Bible’s ‘Intervention’? Oh, and then there was the time that J. Mascis joined a stage ramshackled-full of 8 electric guitarists and three drummers, spilling out into the audience, and played a song to close the night called ‘Guitar Symphony’ which has never seen the light of day, but was perhaps the strongest reminder of the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll the city has ever seen.

Indeed, the day-long festival has been home to some of the most memorable and important moments in Toronto’s music history. It’s also been home to some of the most memorable and important moments for this writer, personally. One way or another, the Island Concert marks a moment in the Summer around which old friends plan trips back to the city and everyone finds each other, ready to celebrate anything they can. The reunions start early in the day over beers and hugs, and end with the back-drop of a lit-up city, slow-dancing as long as you can before running to make the last ferry back to mainland.

Pavement – Cut Your Hair
Broken Social Scene – Cause = Time
Band of Horses – Our Swords
Beach House – Zebra

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— , June 18, 2010    5 Comments
Photograph by Fred Loek

Photographs by Fred Loek

A little over a year ago, I was sitting in my room listening to Fleet Foxes’ full-length debut when I discovered something in the LP’s sleeve for the first time. Printed on a large piece of parchment was an anecdote which captured the essence of why I love music like nothing I had read before. In it, the writer cautions us of photographs, which he claims are almost like fake representations of what we think to be memories. Do you really remember your third birthday, or has a picture that you’ve seen repeatedly, mixed with accounts of the day from people who were there, created a false sense of memory, now almost indistinguishable from the real thing? The authenticity of a memory is definitely questionable when it has been cognitively inserted into your thoughts through photos and their accompanying captions.  Music, on the other hand, claimed the writer, has the ability to evoke much more genuine memories, taking you to the time when you heard a song, what you felt then and what was around you:

“Ask anyone who loves music and they’ll tell you that certain albums and songs remind them of particular places and people; loved ones who may now be gone, good and bad times, or particular evenings spent driving for the sake of wanderlust all somehow take sustenance from the songs that accompanied them. The trick is that the memories enhanced by the music come to life more readily and with more force than memories triggered in any other way.”

Music can take you to places. Now I know I haven’t shed any new light on this special but well-known dimension of music, but I will say that there are few albums and bands which can evoke this journey for me – especially in this era of music over-consumption that we’re in. Fleet Foxes are definitely one of them and I discovered another this past Fall when I was invited to go see a new band called Make Your Exit play an album release event in Toronto.

Make Your Exit – Leave This Town
Make Your Exit – Kids
Make Your Exit – Smokes and Lint

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— , December 7, 2009    5 Comments
Photograph by David Waldman

Photograph by David Waldman

Recently, we at Ca Va Cool turned to our crystal ball to foresee the winner of this year’s Polaris Music Prize. In a choice that can be described as coming out of left field, the 2009 Polaris Music Prize has been awarded to Toronto hardcore group Fucked Up for The Chemistry of Common Life.

When the shortlist was released, our general consensus was that Chad VanGaalen was the clear winner, but the grand jury chose to award the $20,000 (CAD) prize to a group that is completely different from previous winners Final Fantasy, Patrick Watson and Caribou. Perhaps giving the award to a band that has twice trashed MTV Canada’s studio by rocking out way too hard is a sign that the panel is becoming more open to new genres. There were several deserving acts on the shortlist, but it’s difficult to argue with this pick. After all, Joel Plaskett could have won.

Fucked Up – Black Albino Bones

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— , September 22, 2009    6 Comments