The 2010 Polaris Music Prize

The 2010 Polaris Prize for Music was handed out tonight in Toronto. Like the Mercury Prize in the U.K., it honors one band’s album for the year as the best in the nation.

I watched the live stream on like a good little music geekazoid, and I must give props to Sirius for being a huge sponsor of the shindig. Also thanks to CBC Radio 3 and the ever-present FACTOR, who Canadian musicians rely on for financial help for video and recording funds.  There are other sponsors as well, and they are all lovely. Especially the Oakville vodka people,  Tag, because it’s great vodka. And yes, thanks to the Government of Canada as well, for at least supporting the arts without (much) hesitation.

This years short list included:

  • The Besnard Lakes, The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night (Montreal).
  • Broken Social Scene, Forgiveness Rock Record (Toronto).
  • Caribou, Swim (Dundas, Ont.).
  • Karkwa, Les Chemins de Verre (Montreal).
  • Dan Mangan, Nice, Nice, Very Nice (Vancouver).
  • Owen Pallett, Heartland (Toronto).
  • Radio Radio, Belmundo Regal (Grosse Coque, N.S., Moncton, N.B., and Pointe-à-l’Église, N.S).
  • The Sadies, Darker Circles (Toronto).
  • Shad, TSOL (London, Ont.).
  • Tegan and Sara, Sainthood (Vancouver and Montreal).

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My pick is Broken Social Scene, which is the album sitting at number three of my best of 2010, and is the top rated Canadian album on that list.
All ten acts performed this year, starting off with Canuck behemoths Broken Social Scene ( you think they’re upcoming superstars? No, they already are here). They preformed the fabulous “Meet me In the Basement” first, then launched into a joyous version of “Texico Bitches” and reminded everyone why they are one of the best bands in the world now.  They even had Alan Cross, the Lester Bangs of Canada, trumpeting them in his speech.
The Sadies, also one of the front-runners this year, performed next.  Nicholas Jennings gives a lovely speech about the Sadies, a really great alt-garage country rock band that will just keep getting better. They deliver a smoking set of songs, proving once again Canadian bands are the best in the world, and all we need is Radiohead to prove it beyond a doubt. And Dallas from the Sadies admitted he was wearing Tommy Hunter’s suit. Canuck kids around Canada just all squealed with nostalgic delight.
Radio Radio is an electro-hip hop band who sings in Chiac, a Maritime patois of francais and English that could only be in Canada. They are pretty unfamiliar to me, so I can’t give you some sort of smart ass remark about them like I usually do. I pretty much heard them for the first time tonight. And they are pretty fantastic. I’ll be checking them out. I don’t think they have the ability to overtake the bigger acts yet, but they could be contenders in the future.
Dan Mangan followed an amazingly electric set by Radio Radio with a mini-orchestra and sweetly off-kilter lyrics wrapped in lovely acoustic pop. He’s just so adorable I want to feed him. Plus he got the jaded Canadian music industry crowd involved. He’s a keeper, Canada.
The Besnard Lakes were up next. They have a gorgeous, atmospheric hard rock sound that sounds like Joy Division had a bastard child with Rush, but while they sound like that, they look like the Hanson Brothers from Slap Shot.  Which means Aaron Brophy’s pre-set speech makes a hell of a lot more sense than one might think. They ain’t a pretty band, but they are an amazing one.
Karkwa were another act completely new to me. Considering I’m obsessive about finding music, especially Canadian music, I am appalled that I didn’t come across them earlier. I’m not an Anglo snob. I’d like to think I’m not an Anglo snob. I might be an Anglo snob. Ouch. But right off the bat the gorgeous harmonies and complex pop melodies are astoundingly beautiful, and I think I might be  totally enamoured of Karkwa.
The original Polaris winner (2006, as Final Fantasy), Owen Pallett, was up again for the award. Pallett may be best known outside of Canada for his work with sprawling Canuck supergroup Arcade Fire, where he arranges the complex string arrangements. His solo work is revelatory and unique. People try to compare him to Andrew Bird, who has a similar vibe in a way ( violin and loop pedals), but Pallett is by far a more talented musician and songwriter. He delivered one of his characteristically bizarrely perfect live sets. The man amazes me.
Shad, the other representation of Canadian hiphop this year, follows the weird and wonderful with a strong set of his own. Shad is an amazing hip hop artist. He gets overshadowed by the Lyrical poetry of K’Naan and the beats of k-os, but he is ultimately the better of the three. Just marvellous.
Tegan and Sara, like Broken Social Scene, has a real international cult following. I like Sainthood an awful lot. But I don’t think it’s as good as The Con. But they followed a star making turn by Shad. That’s tough. But they brought along Owen Pallett. That’s great. Oh, and those lovely harmonies and angelic voices. They are so marvellous live it’s almost unfair. And they are really, really funny.
Caribou, the winner in 2008 for Andorra, finished off the night. The electronic mastermind plays with a full band live, and he brings along horns and flute as well as the usual suspects. The complexity of the music should come as no surprise to electronica fans, who probably all know Caribou’s Daniel Snaith is a maths genius with a Ph.D and all.  Maths and music go together like Loggins and Messina. I may not love it. But it make sense to other people. Needless to say, Caribou’s set is amazing and glorious and a rave without the E. It really is possible!
After an amazing, three and a half hour concert performed by ten different acts that varied in style, genre, and language, the 2010 Polaris Prize in music, with its $20,000 CDN prize and the honor of being the best Canadian album of the year, was presented by members of 2009 winners, Fucked Up, to this years winner, the Francophone act Karkwa.
Congratulations to Karkwa, who will be in my album collection as soon as humanly possible. The choice sounds like it’s a popular one in the room.  And I know they will have a shit load of new fans by the end of the week.

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