Once again, the best of Canadian music has come together to celebrate all that is wonderful and perfect about my home and native land’s music. This years short list has ten great records on it. But one is the clear favourite.
The ten albums on the Polaris 2011 short list are:
Arcade Fire The Suburbs
Austra Feel It Break
Braids Native Speaker
Galaxie Tigre et diesel
Hey Rosetta! Seeds
Ron Sexsmith Long Player Late Bloomer
Colin Stetson New History of Warefare Vol. 2: Judges
Timber Timbre Creep On Creepin’ On
The Weeknd House of Balloons
First off, Damian Abraham from Fucked Up! (2009 Polaris winners) looks damn fine in a suit. Second off, it takes only a few minutes for the first “No one has a shot against Arcade Fire” jokes to begin. If there has ever been a Polaris with this level of inevitability, I have never watched it.
The show opens with the amazing Ron Sexsmith, Canadian troubadour extraordinaire, with a moon face and a melancholic voice. “Believe It When I See It” is a sprightly sounding tune with some pretty awesome guitars. Sexsmith’s sweet voice is only matched by his humility, and he follows the upbeat “Believe It” with the gentle “Everytime I Follow”, and Grant from CBC3 gives him the commemorative poster after some more sweet words from the sweetest man in music. If Ron Sexsmith were to win for his lovely album, I wouldn’t be upset. But it’s telling that I now hear “Ready To Start” by the favourites in the noise.
“Ready to Start” is followed by “Modern Man”. Even the “advert break” music is favouring the Montrealers.
Next up the lovely Austra.
Brent Bambury evokes longe jackets, Vonnegut, and cigarettes to describe Destroyer’s “sad disco” record Kaputt. The band is not here tonight. Grant returns wearing real clothes ( very Tom Wolfe, Grant). Austra takes the stage to play “Darken Her Horse”, a trippy moody song made amazing by Katie Stelmanis’ amazingly evocative voice. Feel It Break is the band’s début, and it shows great promise. They follow-up with the epic sounding, appropriately named “The Beat and the Pulse”. There is a brief shot of Win Butler slightly nodding along.
Galaxie, a Québécois rock band, takes to stage to perform “Camouflar”, a loud and hard rocking song laced with sweet feminine vocals amidst the noise. They follow it with the driving “Piste 1”, and they own the stage. My Twitter feed is firmly divided in “Love ’em” and “Hate ’em” camp. I’m still in the “They seems alright” camp- their album left little impression on me, and I was sore that they made it through while Rural Alberta Advantage and Neil Young didn’t.
Arcade Fire is confirmed to not be performing. Sadly. Because man, maybe they could have made the Masonic Temple sound fab, because god knows Much is doing a shit job of it.
Members of Teenage Fanclub are in the house, and I just died of joy.
The Weeknd is a Canadian hiphop act with no label, no video, no nothing. An indie mix tape got some play from Canuck hiphop superstar Drake, and the next thing you know, he’s up for a Polaris Prize and has a ten percent chance to win $30,000 CDN. To be fair, it is the only Polaris nominee I have not heard, but I know that the Cinderella story makes him a favourite.
Timber Timbre is the next band to perform.The band is quiet and restrained in comparison from the earblasts that Galaxie and Austra performed earlier. It’s both a relief and sad. They’re getting lost in the scheme. “Bad Ritual” has moments of beauty. I have never gotten the love for this band. I think they’re over praised, and not as hipster cool as critics try to make them. That being said, I thought Creep On Creepin’ On was a good step forward in their songwriting, and perhaps they’re going to make an impression on me that’s more positive in the future. Their performance of the album’s title track is a major improvement over the record.
The elephant in the room is Arcade Fire’s non-performance, but it is the overwhelming favourite. The album is simply beautiful. I have fallen more and more in love with it every time I hear it. A slow burner, a masterpiece, a magical experience. It is simply an experience to be treasured every single time. If I had a chance to do my 2010 top twenty albums again, it’d be the number two record (sorry, LCD Soundsystem still would be number one).
Braids takes the stage and opens with “Plath Heart”. I have never been able to get past Raphaelle’s little girl voice, but they started out in my hometown, so… no, the voice irritates me. Sorry. They follow-up with an unreleased track called “In Kind”, and it doesn’t improve my mood nor my opinion. Judging by on-line reaction, I am clearly in the minority here.
I love Colin Stetson’s album, a fantastic jazz record by the frequent Arcade Fire collaborator. Anyone who knows me I adore good jazz, and he’s going to be among the best.
Hey Rosetta!, the legendary Newfoundland band, play “Bricks” as an opening. At this point, I have to admit that if Arcade Fire wasn’t in the mix, and if Austra didn’t just blow my mind, and if Ron Sexsmith wasn’t a genius, Hey Rosetta! would probably be my pick to win. The grossly underrated band deserves Arcade Fire level praise. Or at least New Pornographers level praise. By the time “Yer Spring” begins, I’m remembering that I am a fortunate girl. I grew up in Canada, where not only was I blasted with what was cool in the U.K. and what was popular in the U.S.- I had our bands, and eventually ( after 1990) it really worked out well for us. Sloan-The Rheostatics-The Inbreds- the Odds- just keep going. Canadian music is more than Neil, Joni, Leonard, and Gordon. My heart soars at the sheer luck of it all.
That was amazing.
Love the Newfie accent, too.
And as the last, agonizing (really) wait begins, I must thank the bands that played for an amazing show. Great music all around. And frankly, all the artists are deserving of the prize.
As CBC’s Grant Lawrence and Much’s Damian Abraham come back to announce the winner, my stomach is in knots… and slowly the show continues… and the winner of the Polaris Prize 2011 is…
Again, it was a fun show to get to the inevitable. And the album is one of the best in Canadian music history. Yes, it was obvious. But it was the most deserving.
That is all for Polaris 2011. I enjoyed it all immensely.