The 2015 Polaris Prize short list was announced July 16. The annual award, selected by a panel of 11 Canadian music journalists, recognizes exceptional Canadian full-length albums. Factors like sales or genre aren’t taken into consideration — the albums are judged solely on artistic merit.
The 10-album short list for the award was announced following the release of the 40-album long list in June. The winner of the prize will receive $50,000, an increase from last year’s reward of $30,000. All other artists with shortlisted albums will receive $3,000 and the recipient of the grant will be announced at a gala on September 21.
This year’s short list features an eclectic group of artists, with nominees ranging from Buffy St-Marie, a 74-year-old folk music veteran receiving her first short list nomination, to Toronto R&B superstar Drake.
While this year’s short list is full of homegrown talent, there can only be one winner. That’s why Gauntlet writers compiled a list of our Polaris Prize favourites.
Back in September I had the pleasure of seeing Alvvays — pronounced ‘always’ — open for hardcore punk band Fucked Up at the now defunct Republik. It was a bit weird for these two Toronto acts to share the same bill. Everyone in the audience came to see a raucous show from a band with a lead singer known for getting naked, slicing up his forehead to bleed profusely and moshing with the crowd.
The members of Alvvays probably felt a bit nervous taking the stage to play indie pop for a mob expecting carnage. But they had every denim-jacketed punk in the room swaying side to side within minutes, tapping their feet and cheering for more.
That’s because Alvvays makes really good indie pop. Recorded here in Calgary by local weirdo Chad VanGaalen, their self-titled debut is a full of catchy melodies, jangly guitars and shining vocals. Every song is light, breezy and strong. It’s the perfect soundtrack to summer.
But if you take a closer listen, you’ll notice darkness in their lyrics. On “Archie, Marry Me” frontwoman Molly Rankin mocks ‘growing up’ and having a big wedding. “Next of Kin” is about a lover drowning, but the song sounds like a day at the beach. So, you know, there’s something for everyone.
There’s not a song on this record I don’t love. I challenge anyone to take a listen and resist getting caught up in their warm summer sound. You’ll end up slowly swaying to the beat of Alvvays’ signature sound.
CJSW Cultural News Coordinator
Viet Cong have since become bona fide stars, headlining festivals across the world. And this success stems from the release of their magnificent self-titled debut album. Bombastic and endlessly daring, Viet Cong revolutionizes the post-punk genre.
From the first measures of the album’s opening track, “Newspaper Spoons,” it’s abundantly clear Viet Cong is something special. Frontman Matt Flegal’s menacing snarl overtop a mechanical and repetitive drumbeat establishes the brooding atmosphere that defines the record.
Viet Cong never relents. Tracks like the frenetic “Sillouettes” and the surprisingly catchy “Continental Shelf” round out the album, building on the album’s panicked and anxious atmosphere. The album closes out on point, with a 15-minute tour-de-force titled “Death.” It’s astonishing how Viet Cong creates music that feels both chaotic and calculated.
Maybe it’s hometown bias, but I truly believe Viet Cong is far and away the best Canadian album of the year. This record is going to set the tone of post-punk for generations to come.
There’s been controversy surrounding Viet Cong’s name, but political correctness shouldn’t bar them from winning this award. The Polaris Prize recognizes the best in Canadian music, and I believe that’s what Viet Cong is.
I may not be a music expert, but after listening to a few of the tracks from each of the short list albums, Deep in the Iris was the most immersive. I listened to half of the album before I knew what was happening.
Created by Calgary art-rock band Braids, Deep in the Iris is characterized by lead singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s mesmerizing vocals and ethereal instrumentals. The band balances guitar chords with Standell-Preston’s light voice, and the music is accented with sparse percussion. This creates an effervescent effect that is impossible to ignore and addictive to listen to.
The album opens slowly with “Letting Go,” a song about sour memories and lost friends. Piano chords are paired with staccato Mallekat percussion, weaving a soundscape that surrounds the listener. And the album’s midpoint track, “Miniskirt,” builds atmosphere with a slow keyboard intro and lamenting vocals until you’re lost in the music.
Deep in the Iris makes full use of deep sounds to touch on topics that would otherwise be difficult to execute. “Sore Eyes” is about trying to deal with unrequited love and lust, whereas “Blondie” is about a young girl running from an abusive home.
Braids’ ability to craft immersive soundscapes is one of the many reasons they deserve to win this year’s Polaris Prize. Their subtle lyricism combined with masterful melodies create an ideal art-rock music experience.
But despite all of this year’s strong entries, one album will “alvvays” have a place in my heart. If that pun didn’t give it away, my pick is for the prize this year is Alvvays.
Hailing from Toronto, the indie pop group took Canada by storm. With dreamy, melancholic tracks that bounce between surf-rock and radio-pop, Alvvays sounds like a long forgotten ’60s vinyl record you would find at a garage sale.
But their lyricism is anything but dated, with songs perfectly capturing the plight of modern 20-somethings looking for love in all the wrong places. The fact that the album was produced by local artist Chad VanGaalen is only icing on the cake.
I love Viet Cong, but I don’t think they’re the best ambassadors of Canadian music right now. Similarly, I’m a big Drake fan, but he’s the last guy in the country to need a $50,000 grant. Alvvays, on the other hand, made the perfect album for the perfect time — packed with songs about millennials struggling to find happiness in a world that isn’t really meant for them.
Something about Alvvays is incredibly Canadian. Maybe it’s singer Molly Rankin’s deadpan vocals or maybe it’s the sense of loneliness caused by the down-tempo compositions and the deliberately fuzzy, blown-out production. Or maybe it’s just the fact that I listened to it all winter. Whatever it is, Alvvays deserves the win.