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This article was published 17/7/2018 (678 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
On Tuesday morning, the 10 albums vying for this year’s Polaris Music Prize were announced, and it is one of the most diverse collections of nominees the award has seen in its 13-year history.
The list features three French artists, three Atlantic Canadian acts who have transplanted to Ontario, an instrumental record and two Indigenous nominees, among others.
Unfortunately, the representation from Central and Western Canada is minimal — the only nominee west of Ontario is hip-hop duo Snotty Nose Rez Kids out of Vancouver. Regardless, the breadth of sound and points of view on the short list is encouraging and exciting.
The award — and $50,000 cash prize — is handed out annually to the best album of the year, based solely on artistic merit and not on genre or record sales. A jury of about 200 music journalists and other industry folk from across the country submit a weighted ballot to pare down a massive list of recommendations to the 40-album long list, and then vote again to chose the 10 short-list nominees from those 40.
A grand jury will decide the final winner at a gala event in Toronto on Sept. 17, and the nine other shortlisted artists will each receive a $3,000 prize courtesy of Slaight Music.
There’s a good chance a lot of these albums and artists will be unfamiliar, so to get you acquainted with the best Canadian music has to offer this year, here are the 10 albums that made the cut, and a brief overview of what you can expect from them:
Alvvays is likely one of the most recognizable names on this list. The indie-pop five-piece out of Toronto is no stranger to Polaris — their self-titled debut was also shortlisted in 2015 — and with their sophomore release, Antisocialites, the group pushes their fuzzy pop sound harder, making a cleaner but no less impactful album.
The lyrical theme of the record is heartbreak, but there is a wonderful brightness to Alvvays that always shines through thanks to frontwoman Molly Rankin's floaty, feminine vocals.
A composer and pianist from Quebec, Jean-Michel Blais has been one to watch since his debut release, Il, in 2016.
Dans ma main is Blais’s sophomore release and plays with integrating synth and electronic textures into his compositions. The result is a stunning and emotional collection that feels both intimate and sprawling, which is not something easily achieved by a largely instrumental album.
Oshawa, Ont. native Daniel Caesar has been one of the most talked-about artists in the Canadian music industry this past year, and Freudian, his debut record, was nominated for two Grammy Awards.
Caesar — who last month performed two sold-out shows in Winnipeg as part of the Winnipeg International Jazz Festival — combines all the best elements of classic R&B but has a modernity to his production that makes his work feel very fresh. The album is sexy, smooth and sophisticated.
The story behind the creation of New Brunswick-bred, Toronto-based Jeremy Dutcher’s debut album, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, is a unique one. Dutcher — who is of Wolastoq descent — went on a journey to unearth recordings of songs that had been lost to his people for more than a century, and then took the words and melodies and surrounded them with contemporary instrumentation.
It is a flawless record, both in terms of concept and execution.
You don’t often hear the term "Afro-futurism" tossed around, but there is no better description for Pierre Kwenders’s MAKANDA at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time.
It’s an ambitious album from the Congolese-born singer (who now lives in Montreal). Not only does he sing in English, French, Lingala, Tshiluba and Kikongo, the album, though rooted in Afro-electric sounds, also pulls bits and pieces from rumba, jazz, funk and ‘80s-style electro-pop.
It’s incredible to think Darlène is not only Hubert Lenoir’s first solo project (Lenoir is also part of group the Seasons), but also his first attempt at French songwriting.
Lenoir has been described as having the genre-bending and gender-bending qualities of a young David Bowie. The album has been deemed a post-modern opera, filtering in influences from jazz, pop, soul and classic rock, among others.
Representing the lo-fi, garage-rock contingency is New Brunswick duo Partner (though they now live in Ontario). Think Weezer’s vibe, but created by two ladies from Atlantic Canada.
Lucy Niles and Josée Caron’s wonderful sense of humour and chill attitude comes through strongly on In Search of Lost Time, but what they’ve made isn’t a joke; this is a collection of solid rock songs with ripping guitar solos and swoon-worthy harmonies.
The Average Savage by Vancouver-based duo Snotty Nose Rez Kids sneaks up on you — on the surface, it’s simply a well-produced, catchy-as-hell hip-hop album, but sitting with it a bit longer, listening a bit closer, reveals stunning storytelling skills that bluntly discuss the negative stereotypes many Canadians believe about the Indigenous population.
The writing is smart, slick and so poignant that even those who are not typically hip-hop fans will find something to grab onto here.
On In A Poem Unlimited, American-Canadian experimental pop artist Meg Remy — who performs under the moniker U.S. Girls — puts her political pants on, diving deep into some heavy themes that are often rooted in violence against women.
But it’s still a pop record, full of shiny choruses and pacing beats. It’s a protest album with pep, pulling influences from disco and hip-hop, and encourages as many thought-provoking moments as it does dance breaks.
Just like Alvvays, Toronto indie-rock quartet Weaves are two for two when it comes to Polaris — their self-titled debut made last year’s short list and they’ve done it again with their sophomore effort, Wide Open.
There is an untamed electricity that emanates from Weaves that made their earlier work feel so exciting, and on Wide Open, they’ve managed to refine, but not lose, that spark.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @NireRabel
Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.
Updated on Wednesday, July 18, 2018 at 2:59 PM CDT: corrects typo