The Polaris Prize will be awarded to the best Canadian album of the last year on Sept. 17. Here’s the albums we think deserve to be recognized as the True North’s best.
Alvaays — Antisocilites
Antisocialites was conceived between 2014 and 2016, during Molly Rankin’s break from the huge success of Alvvays debut album. She jokes in many of her interviews that she had to become a “hermit” to sort out her thoughts and feelings regarding a second album since, as a musician, you have to come to terms with the sustainability of your success after such a strong start.
Alvvays’s second studio album does not disappoint in the slightest. While it’s only 32-minutes long, each track is infused with gloomy vocals, catchy pop beats and dreamy instrumentals that are sure to keep the listener in an upbeat mood. Opener “In Undertow” is a great introduction to the album, showing the dichotomy between the lyrics and accompanying music that becomes more pervasive as you listen further. The more I listen to this album, the more addicted I become to Molly Rankin’s sweet voice.
I grew up listening to the Rankin Family’s music during long road trips and lazy Sundays at home, so what I love about Molly Rankin’s voice is that it’s arguably an ode to her roots coming from a family of traditional Celtic artists.
Partner — In Search of Lost Time
Fuck yeah folks, Partner’s on the shortlist! The four-piece band describe themselves as “post-classic-rock” on their Bandcamp page, and honestly, it’s a wonderfully astute descriptor. Front-duo Josée Caron and Lucy Niles deliver the best riff-riddled, groove-delivering of your favourite Fleetwood Mac or Heartbreakers vibes with a modern lens.
The fully-realized In Search Of Lost Time comes complete with phone call skits from the album’s production, proving the skit formula can find a fun and cozy home outside of classic hip-hop collections. Opener “Everybody Knows” combines a clean riff with the classic tale of being noticeably high in a supermarket, delivering more of a risk of air-guitar than an AC/DC concert in Moncton. Other instant classics like “Comfort Zone” and “Gross Secret” explore friendship, relationships and a purely Canadian life-lived with stadium melodies and solos worth showing off to your guitar teacher.
Caron and Niles found the drive for Partner in their magical best-friendship, which grew out of a shared love of laughter, reality TV and being gay. This album encompasses all the fun that gave it life and deserves a slot in your car’s CanCon CD collection forever and ever.
Jean-Michel Blais — dans ma main
With dans ma main (“in my hand”), composer and pianist that Jean-Michel Blais expertly blends the piano with modern instrumentation, crafting compositions that are hauntingly beautiful. The addition of electronic synthesizers and arpeggiators, juxtaposed with the piano, creates an engaging listen.
Album opener “forteresse” instantly sets the tone for what is to follow, evoking a remote and stoic atmosphere of which the title suggests. The slow burn that follows is “roses,” a powerful piano movement and one of the strongest pieces on the album.
In “blind,” Blais best encapsulates the style of the entire album. Again, initially starting off as a delicate piano melody, the piece swells into arpeggiated bliss, before returning to its piano refrain. It’s dream-like and refined and was the first song I replayed upon listening to the album from start to finish.
Though vocals are sprinkled throughout some tracks, closer “chanson” includes a subtle serenade that highlights dans ma main’s cantabile. The piece concludes with what sounds like a phone conversation and the shuffling of someone moving in a room, tying the bow on the intimate album.
While pleasant as an ambient listen, dans ma main can be best enjoyed with a good set of headphones. Give yourself time to get lost in the airy soundscapes of this strong Polaris Prize contender.
Jeremy Dutcher — Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa
Jeremy Dutcher, a two-spirited Wolastoqiyik tenor and Dalhousie musicologist, was initially inspired to record Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa as part of a research project. In the Canadian Museum of History sat, untouched, recordings of Wolastoq songs that hadn’t been heard in literally centuries. These became the backbone of Wolastoqiyik, turned operatic by Jeremy as he infused them with baroque pop, jazz and prog productions. The result of Dutcher’s daring vision is an album both old and new, otherworldly and deeply, singularly Canadian.
I maintain the most beautiful album to come out of the north this past year was Bahamas’ Earth Tones and that the most thoughtful Canadian record was the eponymous Cadence Weapon. (Neither of them, however, made the short list, so here I digress). But, Jeremy Dutcher’s Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa is the most bold, adventurous, forward-thinking album on the Polaris Short list. And for that reason, it has my vote.
U.S. Girls — In A Poem Unlimited
I’ve felt a lot of anger over the last year, sometimes personal but mostly political. That anger was directed not only towards the individuals and systems that perpetuated inequality and hatred, but also to those who purport to act in resistance to those forces but do so in a manner so pedestrian that it’s ineffective entirely.
The piece of media I’ve consumed in the past year that best exemplified that anger, save for Sean Baker’s excellent film The Florida Project, is the U.S. Girls album In A Poem Unlimited. One-time American Meg Ryan, the artist behind the U.S. Girls moniker, seethes with outrage. Listening to album’s high points, like album-closer “Time” or “Incidental Boogie,” a song concerned largely with the transient nature of art as escapism, is a visceral experience. It helps that the whole album is musically stunning, branching from simple disco or art-rock beats to compelling and complex baroque arrangements. For its ability to flawlessly evoke a feeling so omnipresent in my recent life, In a Poem Unlimited is my Polaris Prize choice.