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Canadian artistry celebrated on annual Polaris Music Prize short list

July 26, 2016 —

The Polaris Music Prize released its 2016 short list on July 14. The annual award, along with $50,000, is given to the Canadian artist whose album is considered to have the most artistic merit, without taking into consideration factors like genre or sales.

This year’s 10 shortlisted nominees range from Vancouver pop-punkers PUP to up-and-coming Haitian-Canadian electronic producer Kaytranada.

Three Gauntlet writers picked our favourites to win this year’s Polaris Prize. The winner will be announced at a gala on September 19, streamed live on CBC Music. But just remember when you see the winner — you heard it here first.

 

If this was 2012, it would seem inconceivable to give an award based on musical excellence to a bubblegum pop artist. But former Canadian Idol contestant Carly Rae Jepsen shocked many as her latest album, E•MO•TION, received widespread praise for its masterful composition.

Though the “Call Me Maybe” singer’s latest album didn’t attain the commercial success of her previous work, E•MO•TION is a fantastically fun album. The record marks a maturing of Jepsen’s sound and lyricism, and is pop music at its finest.

Among the Polaris nominees, E•MO•TION stands out as the lone mainstream pop album. Though I admire the alternative sound of the other artists, I think it’s wrong to say that a pop album is undeserving of the award.

It’s impossible not to get lost in the music of album opener “Run Away With Me,” a blissfully composed aural work of art. The single is infectiously captivating, with the variety of sounds blending together seamlessly. And it’s hard to imagine there are Canadians who haven’t had “I Really Like You” stuck in their head at least once since the single’s release.

The album includes deeper cuts like “Your Type” and “All That,” as well as club bangers like disco house fusion “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance.”

If the Polaris Music Prize was simply about recognizing lesser-known Canadian indie artists, the record’s prize eligibility could be questioned. But the degree to which every song on the LP is impeccably polished makes E•MO•TION my choice for the Polaris Prize.

Or maybe I’m just a sucker for saxophone riffs layered on top of Carly “Slay’s” voice.

Derek Baker

There was a bit of controversy surrounding this year’s Junos — Canada’s significantly more mainstream music awards — when no female artists were nominated for the “Artist of the Year” and “Album of the Year” categories. Among the nomination snubs, one absence stood out — Grimes’ exceptional fourth album, Art Angels.

Claire Boucher, who releases music as Grimes, is a Vancouver songwriter creating a unique brand of pop music that’s both incredibly ambitious and downright fun to listen to. Art Angels is her most fully-realized work yet.

The album has a fair share of standard pop cuts, like lead single “Flesh Without Blood” and the incredibly catchy “Pin,” which gets stuck in my head on a weekly basis. But there are also some fairly experimental tracks scattered throughout the album — most notably “SCREAM,” where Boucher, well, screams.

What ties these tracks together is how amazingly crisp they sound. Listening to these songs with headphones on and the volume cranked is damn near transcendental thanks to Boucher’s skilled production. And that’s especially true with “REALITI,” the album’s best song and the vessel for one of the most crushing pop choruses ever committed to tape.

Art Angels is a statement, as Boucher shoots down expectations that have dogged her since the 2012 single “Oblivion.” “I’ll never be your dream girl,” she sings on the closer “Butterfly,” asserting she just doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks about her music.

Grimes has made incredible pop music for years and Art Angels is her crowning achievement. It’s time Canada gives her the recognition she deserves

Jason Herring

After two EPs and two albums, Andy Shaufs melancholic rhythms and waspish, deeply personal lyrics finally receive overdue recognition on the Polaris short list. On The Party, Shauf brings recognitions to Regina’s often overlooked, but potent and noteworthy music scene.

Shauf’s lyricism often reads more like a memoir than a song, with subject matter relatable to anyone who’s spent time in a dreary rural setting. From the album’s cover art to the title and through each song, Shauf commits to his unique brand of grim and accurate social commentary.

The album is full of relaxed beats and music produced through the simple and cheap process of recording in his parents’ basement. With Shauf’s adherence to the traditional singer-songwriter style, he makes a splendid addition to Canada’s storied Arts and Crafts Label. Shauf handles all of the instrumentals on The Party with the exception of the strings, proving to be more than just a breathy vocalist.

Opener “The Magician” is one of the best examples of Shauf’s ability to weave affecting narratives through baroque arrangements.
Album highlight “The Worst in You” is a harmonic tune about an ill-fated relationship. These tracks, like many on the album, reflect upon the hazy atmosphere that can overtake a party as it reaches its conclusion.

The album’s poignant depiction of life in rural Canada makes Shauf an artist to keep on your radar. He’s certainly a worthy recipient of this year’s Polaris Prize.

Hayden McBennett

 

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