Fulcrum contributors’ picks for the Polaris Prize
THE POLARIS MUSIC PRIZE is a $30,000 music award given to the best Canadian full-length album of the year. A jury of music journalists, broadcasters, and bloggers chooses the winning album based on its artistic merit, without regard to genre, sales, or professional affiliation. The Polaris Prize Gala takes place Sept. 23 in Toronto.
EDMONTON’S PURITY RING deserves to win the Polaris Music Prize for doing the unthinkable: bringing darkness back into electronic pop music. In a genre that has become over-saturated thanks to dozens of artists who are doing virtually the same thing, Purity Ring offers up a refreshing alternative with a dark, gothic-influenced sound that many of their contemporaries wouldn’t dare try.
Not to say that the Edmonton duo’s debut is all doom ‘n’ gloom, as Shrines is packed to the brim with stunning, catchy songs that are elevated by singer Megan James’ innocuous-yet-powerful vocals. However, Shrines’ brighter numbers act solely as lights in a dark tunnel; much of the album is populated with dense, dark tracks. Producer and band member Corin Roddick’s combination of bombastic synths, hip-hop influenced beats, and wavering vocal effects—which make James’s voice drift in and out like a ghost—only complete the eerie atmosphere.
New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light
I HAVEN’T ALWAYS been a Colin Stetson fan. In fact, it wasn’t until I first heard him play in concert that I truly understood why the name Stetson conjured up such critical awe in the Canadian music scene. I have never seen an audience as thoroughly dumbstruck as the crowd at this year’s Hillside Festival (the pride of Guelph, Ont.) as he left the stage post-performance. His meditative, powerful music completely transfixed his listeners.
Colin Stetson doesn’t want to entertain you. He doesn’t want to soothe your worries with sad blues tunes or unleash a wave of pent-up heavy metal anger. He wants to make you re-evaluate what music means and why we make it. He’s not just pushing boundaries, he’s setting entirely new ones—and that’s why he’s my sure-fire candidate for this year’s Polaris Music Prize.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
THERE’S NO NODDING your head to a catchy tune or singing along to be found here. Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s first album in 10 years makes its tone clear from the very beginning. Its 20-minute opening song is named after Ratko Mladić, the former Bosnian-Serbian general charged with committing countless war crimes and genocide. The song starts off quiet and then layers on heavier guitars, drums, and noise, culminating in a furious crescendo that’s heavier than any other song Godspeed You! Black Emperor has ever produced.
What puts an album above its competition, especially one as difficult and at times downright distressing as this one, is that it’s still excellent. The emotional ride this album gives is like nothing else. While it may not be an album you’ll want to listen to every day, it’d be ridiculous to ignore the fact that art like this deserves every accolade it can get.
Nation II Nation
QUINTESSENTIALLY CANADIAN, OTTAWA’S own A Tribe Called Red has cultivated a unique sound by blending traditional powwow music with electronic beats. Their self-titled debut album was long-listed for the Polaris Music Prize in 2012 and their follow-up, Nation II Nation has been shortlisted this year. Their music is entrancing and the voice they bring to the Canadian aboriginal population is purely positive.
The visual aspects to their live performances are exciting: I’ve seen live spray painting, hoop dancing, and background videos all incorporated into their shows. The Polaris Music Prize has never been awarded to a strictly electronic album before. The most recent winners include more widely recognizable names like Feist and Arcade Fire. Winning the Polaris Prize would bring A Tribe Called Red’s music to a wider audience, which they rightfully deserve.
IT COMES AS no shock that the new album Synthetica from Toronto-based band Metric is being considered for the Polaris Music Prize. The band’s website describes the album as a “culmination of all the music the band has made in their 10 years together.” Synthetica captures Metric’s classic rebellion combined with a futuristic sound. The defiant themes of the album have caught the public’s attention—it’s been featured on FIFA ’13 and Grey’s Anatomy—but it is the vulnerability that renders Metric the true champions.
—Nadia Drissi El-Bouzaidi
Tegan and Sara
HEARTTHROB IS A breath of fresh air worthy of the Polaris Music Prize. In the diverse mix of albums nominated for the award, Tegan and Sara’s latest album stands out. Heartthrob starts on a high note and keeps up the momentum throughout. The Quin sisters have unique voices and a strong grasp of how to write hooks. The songs feel equally genuine, reflecting the giddiness of new love or the melancholy of failed relationships, and steady beats keep the music lively even when the lyrics express heartbreak. With this album of sincere and danceable pop, Tegan and Sara have created a work worthy of the Polaris Music Prize.