Tuesday, July 17, 2012

NORTHERN EXPOSURE: The Polaris Prize Shortlist

(Northern Exposure is a feature where Mark incessantly rambles about music from his home country of Canada.)

As a lot of you probably know, Tuesday, July 17 is that day that The Polaris Prize longlist of 40 albums get whittled down to a shortlist of 10 albums that will compete for The Polaris Prize at the gala in September. Anyway, to cut to the chase, this is just me posting my thoughts on the longlist as well as some quick thoughts on each of the 40 albums that were on it.

After listening to every album on this year's longlist, I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t really disappointed with it. I know that there were a lot of people who believed 2012’s longlist was better than 2011’s, but personally I don’t think that could be farther from the truth. I really found a rather large subgroup of these albums boring as hell. Most notably was the bevy of singer-songwriter albums that sounded way too safe to me. There wasn’t a ton here that I found really pushed the envelope or tried to do something new and exciting. It’s fine if you liked a lot of this list, but I’d rather listen to a failed experiment than something that I’ve already heard before. 2011 featured albums from acts like Braids, Women and Colin Stetson (among plenty of others) that started to take me out of my musical comfort zone and made me start to really question what I thought music was, and what it could be. I just don’t feel that this year's list had the same quantity of albums that pushed me like last year did.

That said, there are still a handful of album on this list that I loved listening to. I had already listened to albums like Death Dreams by PS I Love You and YT//ST by Yamantaka // Sonic Titan before this year’s longlist was announced, but I was very happy to be introduced to albums like A Tribe Called Red by A Tribe Called Red and Impossible Spaces by Sandro Perri.

So, without further ado, here are my quick thoughts on all 40 of the longlisted albums. Some of these I listened to more closely than others, but I managed to get to them all at least a few times. The ones that I’m picking to make the shortlist are in underlined, and I’ll summarize them at the end of this post.

A Tribe Called Red - A Tribe Called Red: This was a really pleasant surprise for me. It’s fusion of electronic beats and aboriginal music really caught me off guard. I think even if you don’t like this album, you have to appreciate how unique it is.

Ariane Moffatt - MA: This album had more of an electronic tinge than I first expected. I still can’t say that I was all that enamoured with it though. It was nice enough, but didn’t really seem to push any boundaries for me.

Avec Pas D'Casque - Astronomie: An french folk album, nothing really have me excited here though. This band might draw some comparisons to Karkwa but their music doesn’t even come close to being as interesting.

Azari & III - Azari & III: An instrumental hip-hop album that I did enjoy quite a bit. The problem with this is a problem I have with a lot of albums on the shortlist, it seems to be made up of sounds that I feel like I’ve heard somewhere before.

Bahamas - Barchords: Afie Jurvanen has one sweet voice and his guitar playing is superb. I think I would have liked to hear some more upbeat tunes on this album though, I think that’s where Afie really shines.

Blackie And The Rodeo Kings - Kings and Queens: This album completely rubbed me the wrong way. I like country, but this sounded way too much like the mainstream country that one would hear on the radio.

Bry Webb - Provider: This former Constantines member has definitely reeled in his sound for a more quiet folk album. His rough voice is fantastic but I did find this album to be pretty bare instrumentally.

Cadence Weapon - Hope in Dirt City: I like Cadence Weapon, the interesting this about this album is the amount of singing he does as opposed to rapping. It caught me by surprise a bit, mostly because he’s great at both.

Cannon Bros. - Firecracker/Cloudglow: An indie pop duo whose sound should be right up my alley, but this ultimately fell short for me. I really liked the more shoegazey moments on this album, but there weren’t enough of them in my opinion.

Coeur De Pirate - Blonde: There is no doubting that Beatrice Martin has a lovely voice. I wouldn’t object to this album if it was on, but I don’t think I’d be playing it if I had the choice. There are some really pretty moments in here though.

Cold Specks - I Predict A Graceful Expulsion: Another woman with a fantastic voice. Her voice coupled with the really dark and moody production on here make this album a good soundtrack for when I just want to be alone and feel sad.

Dan Mangan - Oh Fortune: I think Dan took it to a new notch with this album. His voice is great and the instrumentation here is so much more dense than on his previously shortlisted album Nice, Nice, Very Nice.

Drake - Take Care: I expected to hate this and I didn’t. Drake’s whiny rapping style always turned me off but I didn’t find it to be that much of a problem here. The problem is that there are very few artists I can take an 80 minute album from, and Drake isn’t one of them.

Feist - Metals: I haven’t listened to a Feist album before, but I thought this one was really interesting. It’s moody and dark and jumps around a lot, but in a kind of cohesive way.

Fucked Up - David Comes to Life: One of the most ambitious albums of the longlist. For me, this rock opera really kind of started to blur the lines between hardcore, punk and rock music. The narrative just adds some more flavour to the mix.

Great Lake Swimmers - New Wild Everywhere: This album honestly bored me out of my skull. Way too bright sounding for what I’m used to from The Great Lake Swimmers. I still want haunting instrumentals with Tony Dekker’s voice angelically floating on top of them.

Grimes - Visions: This was one of my most anticipated albums of 2012 and it was a huge letdown. These songs just feel aimless to me, and the excessive amounts of reverb used on her vocals just kind of get on my nerves.

Handsome Furs - Sound Kapital: This was a great album, really fun, really upbeat and really danceable. It would be weird if this album got shortlisted though, given that the band just recently broke up.

Japandroids - Celebration Rock: Absolutely unrelenting rock record. I feel like these alcohol soaked youth anthems would have hit me even harder a few years ago, but they’re all still great.

Joel Plaskett Emergency - Scrappy Happiness: What can you say that hasn’t already been said about Joel Plaskett? He’s a fantastic songwriter and it shows on Scrappy Happiness. Not to mention that he can rock out on songs like “Lightning Bolt”.

John K. Samson - Provincial: This guy isn’t a songwriter, he’s a poet. I don’t think there is any other artist that can paint a picture with words quite like The Weakerthans front make can. Like many Weakerthans records, the music is alright here, the lyrics are where this album shines.

Kathleen Edwards - Voyageur: Maybe I don’t value songwriting enough but this is another alternative folk album that doesn’t really do much interesting for me. There are some okay songs on here like “Change The Sheets”, but even those songs don’t really feel interesting to me.

Kathryn Calder - Bright And Vivid: If every track on this album was as interesting as “One Two Three” with its haziness and pounding drums I’d like this a lot more. I think this album just goes downhill from there.

Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas: I’m blissfully ignorant to most of Leonard Cohen’s work but I think from this album it’s obvious that with his deep, rich voice he can croon with the best of them.

Lindi Ortega - Little Red Boots: This is another album that struck me as something that I might hear on mainstream country radio. I just thought it was a group of pretty listless and boring songs, to my ear at least.

Mares Of Thrace - The Pilgrimage: I actually like this album, and it may just be because of my ignorance toward metal, but I don’t care. Even if you don’t like metal then try out really eerie electronic interlude “Triple B”.

Marie-Pierre Arthur - Aux Alentours: I listened to this album three times and I can’t even remember anything about it, that’s how little staying power it had with me.

Mark Davis - Eliminate The Toxins: This is a pretty interesting folk album, definitely worthy of repeated listens. The production on this album makes it sound so haunting and beautiful to listen to each time I’ve revisited it.

Parlovr - Kook Soul: Right from the beginning I thought this album would be kind of a classic piano rock throwback. However, it ended up showing a lot of different sides like a definite garage influence showcased throughout this album.

Patrick Watson - Adventures In Your Own Backyard: I don’t think there is a more beautiful sounding album on this year's longlist. Patrick has his usual group of dark songs on this album but this time they are offset by some brighter sounding songs like “Into Giants”.

PS I Love You - Death Dreams: This album is dark, moody, and ultimately I feel more sprawling than their debut effort. It may be slightly more toned down than their debut but you should still be prepared to have your ears blown off.

Rich Aucoin - We're All Dying to Live: Probably the most ambitious album on the longlist with over 500 contributing musicians. Rich dabbles in everything from straight up electro pop to some sprawling baroque pop on this album.

Rose Cousins - We Have Made a Spark: Another middling singer-songwriter on this list. There are song really pretty songs on here, but I don’t think any of them are unique enough to have any staying power with me at all.

Sandro Perri - Impossible Spaces: This is my first introduction to Sandro Perri and I was beyond impressed with this album. The amount of quirky and thought provoking instrumentation here makes my discover something new every time I listen.

Shooting Guns - Born To Deal in Magic 1952-1976: This was a pretty loud and noisy instrumental rock album. After repeated listens some of the tracks started to sound too similar for my liking.

The Barr Brothers - The Barr Brothers: Another folk album here. I was surprised when the first track on this album was almost a cross between folk and post rock, I would have liked to hear an album of songs similar to that, but this album quickly started leaning heavily toward the folk side of things.

The Slakadeliqs - The Other Side of Tomorrow: This was a mostly acoustic guitar driven soul and funk album. It was very down tempo, and definitely subtle, although still kind of bland for me. The highlight on here was a guest verse from Shad.

The Weeknd - Echoes of Silence: Whatever you think about The Weeknd, you can’t deny that what he’s doing is inventive as far as R&B goes. I also don’t think there are too many people out there with a voice quite as sweet as his.

Yamantaka // Sonic Titan - YT//ST: The progression of this album is absolutely fantastic. To develop from the tribal sounding “Queens” to all out noisy and sludgy psychedelic rock makes this a fantastic half hour of music.

Yukon Blonde - Tiger Talk: I was pretty unimpressed by this album. Lots of fun and light-hearted pop rock songs on this album but nothing that I really made me want to come back to it.

So to summarize, this is what my personal shortlist looks like:

A Tribe Called Red - A Tribe Called Red
Dan Mangan - Oh Fortune
Fucked Up - David Comes To Life
Handsome Furs - Sound Kapital
Japandroids - Celebration Rock
Patrick Watson - Adventures In Your Own Backyard
PS I Love You - Death Dreams
Rich Aucoin - We're All Dying to Live
Sandro Perri - Impossible Spaces
Yamantaka // Sonic Titan - YT//ST

No comments:

Post a Comment