2013 Polaris Prize Short List

Last month, the folks behind the Polaris Prize came up with a list of their 40 favourite albums in the past year. Today, that list was pared down to 10. Eleven “judges” will give the $30,000 cash prize to one of them (the winner) announced at a ceremony in September. You will notice that the kind of music up for the Polaris Prize often differs from best-selling albums and albums nominated for JUNOs and other awards. This is because the list of albums nominated is a reflection of the musical tastes of the group of people on the panel. Generally speaking, sales figures are a reflection of the musical tastes of all Canadians, the JUNOs of those in the music industry, and the Polaris those in Canadian media. Polaris panelists tend to focus more on music, less on lyrics and vocal talent, and generally favour darker, more sombre styles.

Although the Polaris Prize has boasted honouring music all over the genre map, we don’t see too much diversity on this year’s list:  no standard rock, pop, country, jazz, classical.  Essentially, these are indie / experimental / electronic albums. Moreover, although a few appeared on the long list of 40, no Francophone album made this year’s cut; one American artist did. On the positive side, the cool thing about these sorts of lists is that you can listen to the albums online and if you’re lucky discover some new music you like. These albums are very well done great works. Below is the “short list” of ten albums up for the 2013 Polaris Prize with some information on each album and artist. What’s your favourite of the bunch?

Godspeed You Black Emperor - Allelujah Don't Bend AscendArtist: Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Origin: Montréal
Type: Male-female group
Album: Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Release Date: October 2012
Genre/Style: Experimental, instrumental rock

Zaki Ibrahim - Every OppositeArtist: Zaki Ibrahim
Origin: Nanaimo, BC
Type: Female solo artist
Album: Every Opposite
Release Date: September 2012
Genre/Style: Electronic African soul

Metric - SyntheticaArtist: Metric
Origin: Toronto
Type: Female-male group
Album: Synthetica
Release Date: June 2012
Genre/Style: Electronic rock

x-defaultArtist: METZ
Origin: Toronto
Type: Male group
Album: METZ
Release Date: October 2012
Genre/Style: Punk

Purity Ring - ShrinesArtist: Purity Ring
Origin: Edmonton
Type: Female-male duo
Album: Shrines
Release Date: July 2012
Genre/Style: Experimental electronic

Colin Stetson - New HIstory of Warfare Vol 3 to See More LightArtist: Colin Stetson
Origin: Michigan, USA
Type: Male solo artist
Album: New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light
Release Date: April 2013
Genre/Style: Experimental, instrumental jazz-rock

Tegan and Sara - HeartthrobArtist: Tegan and Sara
Origin: Calgary
Type: Female duo
Album: Heartthrob
Release Date: January 2013
Genre/Style: Synthpop, new wave

A Tribe Called Red - Nation II NationArtist: A Tribe Called Red
Origin: Ottawa
Type: Male group
Album: Nation II Nation
Release Date: May 2013
Genre/Style: Powwow step

Whitehorse - The-Fate-of-the-World-Depends-on-this-KissArtist: Whitehorse
Origin: Hamilton
Type: Male-female duo
Album: The Fate of the World Depends On This Kiss
Release Date: August 2012
Genre/Style: Folk rock

Young Galaxy - Ultramarine copyArtist: Young Galaxy
Origin: Vancouver
Type: Female-male group
Album: Ultramarine
Release Date: April 2012
Genre/Style: Indie electronic


Ice Conduit to the 2013 JUNOs: ELECTRONIC ALBUM Nominees

Electronic music seems too broad to be a genre in itself. It is like having a category called “acoustic music” which could include a symphony orchestra, a jazz ensemble, a gospel choir, a honkytonk pianist, a Caribbean steel drum band, or a yodeller on a banjo. Similarly, electronic music would encompass the classical cinematic style of Vangelis, the techno dance vibes of deadmau5, the industrial sounds of Nine Inch Nails, the jazzy Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, the pop sensibilities of The Human League, the lounge flavourings of Air, or the trip hop of Tricky. But, because there are relatively less Canadian musicians keying the synths, it does make sense for now to round them all up under one umbrella. Below are the five 2013 JUNO-nominated works for Electronic Album of the Year.

Electronic Artists

Crystal Castles III

Crystal Castles IIIToronto’s Crystal Castles is an experimental electronic duo consisting of Alice Glass and Ethan Krath. This is their third JUNO nomination. This work, their third album, was recorded in Warsaw and mixed in London, England. The album is all about the concept of oppression which one can tell from a cursory glance at the song titles. Crystal Castles began their musical odyssey by converting classic video game sounds to song. Their new album takes us on a night visit to the damp, cobweb-laden corridors of Dr. Frankenstein’s castle. Glass’ scream-wailing singing sounds as if it’s echoing out from a dungeon behind a wall of synthesizers possessed by ghosts. A good, solid album. But beware: crankin’ it up just may shatter any crystal you’ve got at home.


Jiaolong by Daphni

Daphni - JiaolongThe man behind JUNO award winning Caribou, Dan Snaith, has vectored out a beat-oriented side project called Daphni, and this is the first album to shake up the dance floor under that moniker. Dan is from the Hamilton suburb of Dundas and holds a PhD in mathematics. Thus, technically, we should be calling him Dr. Snaith. If electronic music could be “stripped down”, a term overused in so-called unplugged music, Jiaolong (Chinese for dragon), does just that. Daphni gets down to basics focussing on samples, beats, grooves, and synth riffs, the common unifier being repetition delivered with mathematical precision. You will need a set of subwoofers to give this album its just desserts.


Visions by Grimes

Grimes - VisionsAllmusic named this as the #1 album in the world of 2012, and it was shortlisted by Canada’s Polaris Prize group. Former ballerina Claire Boucher is a Vancouverite of French Canadian descent and launched her music career while studying Russian literature and neuroscience at McGill University in Montréal. Inspired by the Cocteau Twins and concerts put on by local musicians at Lab Synthèse, an abandoned textile factory, she began experimenting with musical cocktails like a mad scientist mixing chemicals beamed down to earth from an alien planet. Grimes has released four albums in the past two years. Visions was released in early 2012. Her vocals are as ethereal as the soundscapes but add ambient newage priestess panache to the heavy gothic darkwave synths generating the music. The result is weird and brilliant.


Shrines by Purity Ring

Purity Ring - ShrinesPurity Ring is a duo from Edmonton consisting of vocalist Megan James and Corin Roddick. The band formed in 2010 and released several singles leading up to the launch of debut album Shrines in 2012. Each song emphasizes a full spread of sounds and effects more than melody. Their sound is crisp, clear, experimental, bright, playful, and airy with pockets of both warmth and chill. Shrines includes their debut single from January 2011, “Ungirthed”, as well as what is perhaps their signature song “Fineshrine”. I would love to walk into a trendy late night restaurant with black and neon lights and hear this playing at a volume just high enough to drown out conversation. This is a delightful work of art.


TRST by Trust

Trust - TrstThis is our favourite of the batch and we ranked it as the 3rd best album of 2012. Their sound is dark and atmospheric, dreamy and hypnotic, sombre and intense, with sparkles of space dust from some eerie planet on a collision course with Earth. This is gothic electronic rock at its very best with synth grunts, blips, and pulses, and melodies taking on unexpected twists and turns on a joy ride to the edge of the unknown. Put this record on and you will instantly enter a cave lit with torches and neon lights, a flying saucer half buried in a wall, and a secret chamber at the back containing a stargate. JUNO-nominated Toronto band Austra’s Maya Postepski met Winnipeg’s Robert Alfons in 2009, and they experienced musical chemistry. They began writing songs and formed the band Trust the following year. TRST is the duo’s debut LP.