Well, it's that time of year again. NO. Not summer. While the weather finally relented and permitted Winnipeg a taste of said season, what the calendar turning to June means for me is it is time to vote for the best Canadian album - aka THE POLARIS PRIZE. Voting ended this past weekend for the 2013/2014 Longlist and my top five (separate post to come) have been set in digital stone and there's no take backsies.
**YES I KNOW, IT'S JULY. I started writing this before the longlist was announced and got busy with summer.
The unfortunate thing about having only five selections, is there is a whack of great stuff that doesn't quite make the cut. In fact this year I had 13 albums that were on my personal Polaris longlist that didn't finish in the Top 5 but that I think are all albums worthy of praise and of your time.
I'm going to list them alphabetically here, though I will note that some of these have already been ranked when I did my Top 20 of 2013 (because the Polaris calendar is different than the Gregorian one).
Austra – Olympia [Paper Bag]
Katie Stelmanis is a golden god. From the moment I heard Join Us, her Blocks Recording Co. debut in 2009, her music has found a place in my heart and on my Year End lists. Olympia was #13 on my Top 20 of last year and it upped the ante of her first record as Austra, Feel It Break with a focus on bigger beats and bolder vocals. Heart.
Braids – Flourish // Perish [Flemish Eye]
Weirdly enough, this one follows Austra alphabetically and followed it numerically in my Top 20 of 2013 where it was #14 [If you want a hint where my votes for the Polaris went this year, take a look at that Top 20 and consider which albums came out after June 1st]. Braids is another act I have a longstanding appreciation for, dating back to when Raphaelle Standell-Preston recorded a late-night live session at my station with Woodpigeon's Mark Andrew Hamilton and These Hands' Mike Hanson. F // P is a bleaker record than Native Speaker, but its unsurprising considering the psychological state in which it was made but the dark material suits the harsher tones.
Cosy Father – Loser Birds [Hot Hand Cold Hand]
I love when this happens. A lot of mail comes across my desk at the station, and I'm certainly not familiar with all of it when it first arrives. I hadn't heard of Victoria band Cosy Father before the inconspicuous-looking Loser Birds with its photocopied artwork and negligible liner notes caught my eye. Weird Canada gave it some love and I played it on my show, but this quiet record is only being discussed in whispers. It's worth shouting about.
Mac DeMarco – Salad Days [Captured Tracks]
Has the DeMarco backlash already started? I've heard from a few folks (names protected not so much for them as for our friendships) that Salad Days is sloppy - to which I say, there's skill in just how loose DeMarco's playing is here. The other complaint leveled against the record is that it's inert, but let's be honest - this is a stoner record and when you get a good buzz on, you're not doing wind-sprints; sinking into the couch is its own activity, and Salad Days has some comfy cushions.
Jerrold Dubyk Quintet - In.vi.tei.shens [Death Setting Records]
I owe Dubyk an apology. Polaris jurors get to nominate albums for consideration by their fellow jurors in an online forum and I had the opportunity to suggest In.vi.tei.shens and flaked on it. This was one of two jazz albums I was particularly enchanted with and should have been championing since the genre has historically been overlooked when the official Longlist comes out annually. Dubyk's take on the Joe Henderson classic "Afro Centric" was what caught my eye and demanded my ear, but it's the miniature suite in the middle of the record comprise of "Every Saint Has A Past" and "Every Sinner Has A Future" that put this record into contention. Don't flake - check this record out. It's streaming on Dubyk's website so there's no excuse.
Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra – Habitat [Justin Time Records]
Item 2 in the "no, a Jazz record did not make my Top 5 but was really close" case against me. Montreal saxophonist / band-leader (and sister of Ingrid Jensen) puts her 19-piece orchestra through their paces on this breathtaking collection of a half-dozen originals. The briefest clocks in at just shy of 8 minutes but the majority run 10 to 11 minutes, allowing a great deal of room for ideas to grow and sounds to coalesce.
Jessy Lanza – Pull My Hair Back [Hyperdub]
As a Polaris juror, we're not supposed to let things like live performances influence our decision-making. The album's the thing, and it should be the only thing when it comes to weighing our votes. That said, it was after seeing Lanza live at the West End this spring that I was compelled to go back and re-listen to Pull My Hair Back. I had enjoyed it upon first release and considered it for my 2013 Year End list (where it was superseded by Austra's album), but hadn't given it much play in the new year. This is a more subtle set of electronics than Olympia, working with a more muted palette - but the aural pictures Lanza paints are better for those limitations rather than being hampered by them. If you haven't listened to it yet, make sure you do - and if you have heard it before, give it another spin.
ROW – Strachan [Power Moves Label]
One of the biggest discoveries for me in 2014 has been Toronto tape and download purveyors Power Moves Label. When this album and RUNNING POINT's enjoyable For Guitar And Amplifier (from the label's head honcho) crossed my desk, I fell hard for Strachan and bookmarked the label's Bandcamp page to keep tabs on what this young outfit comes up with as it grows. If you like swirling, expansive and imaginative drone / post-rock / noise / ambient music then you need to get hip to ROW and Power Moves.
Shad – Flying Colours [Black Box Recordings]
This came in at #16 on my 2013 Top 20. It's another great album in an increasingly long line of them from Shad. But it's nowhere near as good as TSOL which will be my perpetual shadow-winner for the 2010 Polaris. If this album ends up winning the prize, it'll be a little like Scorcese getting the Oscar for The Departed.
Silkken Laumann – Not Forever Enough [Independent]
Remember The Acorn? Glory Hope Mountain? Rolf Klausener, who crafted that album of exceptional beauty in tribute to his mother, is one of three musicians behind Silkken Laumann. I was pleasantly surprised to find out the same care he applied to crafting GHM went in to creating this collection of dance-floor movers.
Slakah The Beatchild – Soul Movement Vol. 2 [Independent]
Soul Movement Vol. 2 finds Slakah moving back toward the traditional beat-making and hip-hop of the majority of his work after the pop-excursion of The Other Side Of Tomorrow, which he put out under The Slakadeliqs moniker. I friggin' loved that album (even the way it made me re-evaluate Justin Nozuka) and would have been happy to see him go further down that road, but in returning to what he has done most, Slakah has also done it best. Vol. 2 is a front-to-back master class in production with beats that push forward without abandoning the past. In 2016, you're going to hear Jay-Z rapping over something like this as he plays catch-up with the Beatchild.
Tanya Tagaq – Animism [Six Shooter Records]
I've always admired Tagaq's music, but I might be including this one out of fear. Animism scares me with its raw pain and anger. Every time I listen to it - particularly "Howl" and "Fracking" - I'm on edge and feel like I have my guard up. But this makes me more alert and receptive to what I'm hearing, and I can hear the power in Tagaq's throat and the hope she holds on to through sheer force of will when facing this effed-up world.
Bry Webb – Free Will [Idee Fixe]
Full disclosure. I'm a dad. Three times over now. So Free Will might just speak to me on a gut level as Webb wrestles with what fatherhood means to him. But having heard the album's praises sung by folks with no children of their own, I don't think the album resonates because of some parental bias. Webb taps into something honest and relatable on the record.