Who deserves to win the 2013 Polaris Music Prize?
It's almost that time of year: 2013's Polaris Prize announcement will drop September 23rd. For the eighth time, some media peeps in Canada made lists, and those lists got shoved in a blender with other lists, and wham, a new list poured out: a list touted as the 10 best Canadian albums from the past year demonstrating the "highest artistic integrity." It's a lot to swallow, but we're not ones to turn a blind eye to a list, especially one tied to $30,000.
Who's in the running this year? Toronto's Metz and Metric made it, plus Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Zaki Ibrahim, Purity Ring, Colin Stetson, Tegan And Sara, A Tribe Called Red, Whitehorse, and Young Galaxy. If you don't like the idea of lists being given so much power, you'll probably cringe at the fact that the Polaris Prize founder dropped a reference to betting pools centered around who will take the esteemed prize at the short list press conference. Oh hey, have you placed your bets yet?
Forget who will take it. This list exists. Canadian media have spoken. So of the 10 albums nominated, who deserves to win? We weigh in on five.
Metric - Synthetica
When I attended the launch party for Synthetica at the Opera House last June, it was quickly apparent that Emily Haines and Co. were in their prime. The band's confident performance, the tightness of the set and sound, the overjoyed audience, and well, one solid catalogue of new songs. The hometown love was palpable.
Synthetica is Metric's fifth album in the can. And it shows. This is their most polished, best produced and structured album to date. As far as indie pop rock is concerned, however, this is a band at their peak. And whatever antagonism people have towards the band or its oft-neurotic frontwoman, Metric has paid their dues. Contrary to what the album's title may suggest, this album felt the most authentic for the band. It reached the number two spot on the Canadian charts and debuted at the 12 pole position on Billboard. And Jimmy Shaw picked up Producer of the Year at this year's JUNO Awards. Nothing to scoff at. Oh yeah, and Lou Reed sings on "Wanderlust."
And, if anyone is counting, the last two Polaris Prize winners have been quote-unquote big deals in the indie rock scene (Arcade Fire and Feist, respectively), Polaris might make it three in a row. Or not, because that's the glorious unpredictability of Polaris.
METZ - METZ
There's something oddly elusive about the music METZ create. The Toronto-based Ottawa transplants shed most of their baggage up front—the three-piece accomplish the rare feat of a maximal sonic assault with the relatively minimal setup of guitar, bass, and drums. But while the band may work within standard rock tropes, the end result of what Alex Edkins, Chris Slorach, and Hayden Menzies do is anything but conventional.
The songs on METZ—a debut album five years in the making, following a steady trickle of 7" singles—sound as if they come from a place that no single songwriter could conjure. A track like "Knife in the Water" isn't anchored around any one performance; the subtraction of any one element dramatically alters the song's musical DNA, be it the heavily reverbed drums, the buzzsaw guitar, or the thundering bass (reoccurring motifs throughout the whole record). Edkins' strained vocal gurgles beneath the chaos, but never loses the contrarian tunefulness that somehow ties the whole affair together.
The closest sonic touchstones may be the concise post-hardcore blast of Hot Snakes, or perhaps the deranged noise rock of the Jesus Lizard, but METZ really do sound like no one else other than METZ. The songs on this record speak for themselves in comprising ten compelling reasons as to why they deserve the Polaris this year. All hail.
Colin Stetson - New History Warfare Vol. III: To See More Light
Colin Stetson's New History Warfare Vol. III is my pick for a number of reasons—but mostly because I think it's the best record on the short list. And the long list. One of the most innovative records I've heard this year, To See More Light is a doomed exploration of the limits of self, of music. At the same time expanding on and eclipsing his (also fantastic) previous work, this is by far the most mature and nuanced record on the short list. A masterpiece by one of the few true virtuosos of our time, it would be a mistake for the Polaris jury to ignore.
Whitehorse - The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss
I've always believed that for a band to be successful, the chemistry between its members has to be second to none. Whitehorse, the Hamilton-based folk-rock duo made up of Luke Doucet and Melissa McLelland, share a musical chemistry that, I'd argue, is second to none amongst the other 2013 Polaris Prize nominees.
Of course, the fact that Doucet and McLelland have been married since 2006 is a major reason for this—their love for each other, and their music, is very evident throughout the brilliant The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss. And while the album is admittedly not my absolute favourite from the rest of the short list nominees (that distinction goes to Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!), Whitehorse is the one nominee that I feel will truly benefit the most from the prestigious award. They're a band deserving of your attention, and taking the Polaris Prize will give them the attention that they so rightfully deserve. Mark my words: on September 23, Whitehorse is taking the crown. I'd bet the farm on it.
A Tribe Called Red - Nation II Nation
The who-deserves-the-prize conversation is so much more interesting than speculating who will win, and while A Tribe Called Red's worthiness is an easy argument, it's also the most important.
Nation II Nation (the title alone demands contemplation) combines traditional aboriginal music with contemporary electronic sound and production—this sort of cultural fusion is hardly a new idea in niche pockets of Canadian music, but the strength of ATCR's vision, and the power of the artists behind Nation II Nation, have made considerable steps bridging both national and international audiences with Canada's aboriginal community. As in every other social and political strata, this country's music scene has a long way to go, and at the dawn of the Idle No More movement this album yields a social power maybe fated to overwhelm its (often brilliant) musicianship and playful artfulness. But that's not a bad thing.
Interesting, new, and thoughtful, Nation II Nation is a step forward for electronic music deserving of recognition, not just from a cultural standpoint but because this album is both enjoyable and challenging. Fingers crossed we see see these guys on stage—holding a huge cheque.
Ok, tell us pals, who really deserves to win?