Now in its tenth year, the Polaris Music Prize has served as a gauge for the quality level of Canadian music created each year. The kicker to the $50,000 award is that it is not earned based upon sales figures, genre, or fan popularity but rather the artistic merit that it receives from a panel of music bloggers, journalists and programmers across the country.
The long list, consisting of 40 albums released during 2015, was announced in Whitehorse and is available here. The next step in the annual process is for the list to be narrowed down to just ten albums, which will be released on July 14. In my own appreciation for the fantastic caliber of talent present on the long list, I’ve narrowed it down to my own personal favourites.
1. Black Mountain, IV: This is not the first time that this haunting rock outfit from Vancouver has received a Polaris nod. Back in 2008 their second album, In the Future, found its way onto the shortlist. (Caribou would win that year with his album Andorra.) Named for the Roman numeral it represents within the band’s discography, IV is a psychedelic rock and roll adventure that has just as much of a chance of finding its way onto the 2016 shortlist.
2. Basia Bulat, Good Advice: Speaking of 2008’s Polaris shortlist, Etobicoke’s Basia Bulat appeared on that list with, Oh My Darling, which was her debut album. Bulat has been expertly blurring the lines between folk and pop ever since she appeared on the Canadian music scene. Good Advice is yet another flawless example of Bulat’s powerful voice and extensive pool of instruments that includes an autoharp, a hammered dulcimer, a ukulele and the popular Andean stringed lute known as a charango.
3. Daniel Caesar, Pilgrim’s Parade: Caesar’s stellar ambient rock album opens with “Trinity Bellwoods,” a field recording of the young Toronto musician strumming his acoustic guitar amidst the sounds of one of the city’s busiest parks. It perfectly sets up six songs of cascading electronics and crisp falsettos. However, it is Caesar’s collaboration with fellow GTA artists, BADBADNOTGOOD and Sean Leon on the track “Paradise,” which makes this album a strong shortlist contender.
4. Coeur De Pirate, Roses: Outremont, Quebec’s Beatrice Martin was once handed a CBC Radio 3 “Bucky” award for being the “Best Reason to Learn French.” Spanning her discography is her fantastic ability to nail vocals in both French and English. In 2014, Martin also gained a fair amount of admiration from those in the video gaming world after she provided the entire soundtrack for Ubisoft Montreal’s, Child of Light. Roses is ambient, extensive and full of that French-Canadian charm that earned the young musician her “Bucky.”
5. Dilly Dally, Sore: Impressively enough, Sore is the debut album from Toronto’s Dilly Dally. It represents an East Coast example of the rrriot girl movement that emerged from the Pacific Northwest punk scene of the 90’s. The raspy vocals from Katie Monks, paired with the guitar work of both Monks and high school friend, Liz Ball, puts this fantastic album on the forefront of a shortlist nod.
6. Junior Boys, Big Black Coat: This album marks the Hamilton electronic duo’s return from a five-year hiatus. Jeremy Greenspan’s breathy vocals, laced with the 80’s electronica provided by sound engineer, Matt Didemus, will make you long for a return to those days you spent in flashy penny arcades, heated dance halls and dusty drive-ins.
7. Jessy Lanza, Oh No: This Hamilton native received a degree in music from Concordia University in Montreal. After graduating, she decided to pursue her Masters in Musicology from McGill University, but ended up dropping out and moving back to Hamilton to teach and write music. She ended up befriending Jeremy Greenspan from Junior Boys, who would be persuaded to give her a feature on the duo’s 2011 album It’s All True. Greenspan would also go on to help produce Lanza’s debut, Pull My Hair Back, which was shortlisted in 2014 as well as sophomore album Oh No.
8. PUP, The Dream Is Over: There is perhaps no Canadian band or musician working as hard as Toronto’s PUP. The band has spent the past couple of years playing upwards of 250 shows per year. In fact, they worked so hard that it nearly killed the dream. The title of the punk-rockers’ sophomore album was a direct quote from vocalist, Stefan Babcock’s doctor – in response to severe damage he had done to his vocal chords as a result of the band’s touring schedule. Now they consider it a comical mantra of the fact that the dream has only recently begun. To get a sample of why this album deserves a shortlist nod, check out bangers: “DVP,” “Old Wounds” and “Pine Point.”
9. The Strumbellas, Hope: When I interviewed band leader Simon Ward in November of 2014, Toronto’s The Strumbellas were traveling across the country in a van in support of their sophomore album, We Still Move on Dance Floors. Since then, the band claimed a Juno for “Roots and Traditional Album of the Year,” made an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and released their third album. Hope is a cheery and optimistic folk-rock album that is super catchy. Take a listen to “Spirits,” which serves as the album’s single and try to not hum along to the melody all day.
10. Donovan Woods, Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled: Sarnia-born and Toronto-based folk musician, Donovan Woods has made a career out of crafting brutally honest lyrics. Woods’s forth album is no exception as there is a sharp honesty to almost every song on this album, with “On the Nights You Stay Home,” “They Don’t Make Anything in That Town” and “Leaving Nashville” standing out as some of his most transparent tunes to date.
Luke Williams grew up a fan of punk and pop punk in a field of cows just outside of Barrie, Ontario. You can follow him on Twitter @musicwithluke