By Gauntlet and CJSW staff, September 18 2014 —
The Polaris Music Prize is an annual award that recognizes excellence in Canadian music. Albums released in the previous year are eligible for the $30,000 grand prize, an award given for artistic merit, regardless of genre or total album sales.
Each year 40 albums are selected for the Long List, which is compiled by journalists, music critics and bloggers. This year, due to a miscalculation in the online voting system, there were 41 albums up for consideration.
From those 41 albums, the list was reduced to a 10 album Short List. This year’s Short List nominees include Drake, Arcade Fire, Basia Bulat, Jessy Lanza, Mac DeMarco, Shad, Owen Pallett, Tanya Tagaq, Timber Timbre and Yamantaka // Sonic Titan.
The winner of the 2014 Polaris Prize will be announced Sept. 22 in Toronto following a gala and performances from the nominees.
In advance of the Sept. 22 announcement, members of the Gauntlet and CJSW made their picks for who should take home this year’s prize.
JESSY LANZA, PULL MY HAIR BACK
Jessy Lanza is a wonderful vocalist and electronic music producer. Her music features light and airy vocals that float above stark and atmospheric beats.
Lanza has been the focus of much critical attention, even prior the Polaris Music Prize nomination. She has received accolades from distinguished sources such as XLR8R, The Guardian and Resident Advisor.
Lanza is the only Canadian on the always-brilliant Hyperdub Records. Hyperdub is a label highly respected in the electronic music genre, run by Kode9, that features forward thinking urban electronic music that always seems to be a few years ahead of the game.
Lanza’s use of vocals is unique in her field, as most other producers tend to feature effect heavy vocal samples. Her vocals add a carefree, fashionable sound and lightness to the music in a genre that can, at times, sound heavy and stale.
The electronic arrangements she creates are delicate and intricately layered. The baselines are infectious and the rhythms build off one-another creating interesting polyrhythms. Lanza also has a knack for providing space between the instruments. Everything has its own place in the mix and has room to breathe.
Lanza is my pick for the 2014 Polaris Music Prize. She is making music that is truly unique, a style of music that is not commonly made in Canada and is of an international quality. This was one of 2013’s best albums in any country, all genres considered.
CJSW Music Director
TIMBER TIMBRE, HOT DREAMS
This year’s Polaris Prize nominees are a varied and diverse collection of Canada’s best, proving that our at times trivial music scene is a force to be reckoned with.
While the list is wrought with talent, one album, Hot Dreams by Timber
Timbre, resonated with me.
Hot Dreams, the bands fifth album, proves that they have successfully mastered their unique sound, which is an eerie blend of alternative and blues salted with doo-wop vibes.
Taylor Kirk, the band’s front man, has a deep and ominous voice that leaves you feeling moody and ill at ease in the best way possible.
The haunting instrumentals are layered with lyrics that speak vividly of desire, while verging on the macabre (“Run from me darling, you better run for your life”).
Evocative vocals, as featured in “This Low Commotion,” paired with Kirk’s deep, syrupy voice, allow for a connection to each song, making it as though you’re experiencing their heartache and confusion.
The album is thematic throughout, scooping the listener up and cradling them into dreamlike state via the oddly soothing guitar riffs. The addition of saxophone is not to go unnoticed, as it creates a sultry, seductive feeling without verging on cheesy.
The band skillfully displays their ability to play with multiple genres throughout the album by including tones reminiscent of lounge music, soul and even dabbling in some Western inspiration.
I would recommend designating an evening to give the album a listen either alone or joined by some preferred company and a bottle of pinot noir. Hot Dreams is boastful of Timber Timbre’s capabilities as they take risks and venture far into the musically unexplored without disappointing or faltering.
JESSY LANZA, PULL MY HAIR BACK
The gossamer Jessy Lanza has built herself an elegant, bass-laden throne atop her competition with her latest album Pull My Hair Back. Opener “Giddy” immediately launches into pulsing 808 beats, with Lanza’s ethereal voice soaring above old-skool synth. The effects are infinitely infectious, as she melds electronica, new-wave and RnB into something deliciously danceable and vibrantly soulful.
“Kathy” mixes robotic industrial-trap beats with sensual, confrontational, lyrical spins. However, with Pull My Hair Back, sound takes precedent over meaning, as Jessy and others’ contribute almost wordless streams of vocals that contribute to atmospheric concepts resembling Jamie XX.
There’s no denying that producer and Junior Boys member Jeremy Greenspan’s influence is all over the album.
Stompers such as “Fuck Diamond” and “Keep Moving” could easily work as instrumentals. But whether it’s Lanza’s sensual demands to “turn around” and “look at me,” or her claims to “not give a fuck,” it’s easy to get the feeling that these songs’ innards are characters she constructs.
With help from a versatile voice, Lanza makes the songs her own, owing to a miraculous ability to fully portray the sensuous in the ghostly, the fragile and the ethereal.
Nonetheless, Greenspan’s tasteful mix of sparse atmospherics on “Strange Emotions” and pulsing synth-jams on “5785021,” necessitates a distance from the music, a factor that Lanza gracefully injects into the album with impeccable timing.
Her contributions are careful and considered, indicating an exacting and powerful creative force that is easily one of 2013’s best efforts and a worthy contender for the 2014 Polaris Prize.