Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Polaris Long List Targets NB'ers
Last week, the first step in the summer-long process of choosing the best album in Canada was make public. The long list for the Polaris Music Prize came out, which is made up of 40 choices of albums released between May of 2010 and May of 2011. Since 2006, the Polaris Prize has been handed to a Canadian album deemed the best, as voted by a jury of over 200 music writers, bloggers and broadcasters across the country, including me. So I thought I'd take the time to explain what happens with this award, and talk about the New Brunswickers who make the cut.
First off, it's a darn good idea and prize. The money is now up to 30-thousand dollars, which is a big chunk of what it takes to make an album, a lot more for some thrifty people. But it can be used for whatever the winner wants, it's no-strings-attached. Also, it was needed, and still is. Before Polaris, you only had the Juno Award for album, which pretty much went to the best-seller, or one of them, because it's an industry award. This is a critical one. You don't have to be a big seller or a big star to be the winner. In fact, it's more likely you won't be, as the voters are looking for talent as opposed to marketing and popularity.
Now, these being critics and reviewers, the tastes tend to be a little more esoteric than the general public...okay, a lot more. I listen to a lot of music, and each year there are discs on the long list I've never heard of, and frankly, when I hear them, I don't get it. There have even been winners of the prize that I think stink. But that's okay. It's a voting process, and there are always well over 200 people each year going through everything, all year long. We have a forum just for jury members that sends email messages to everyone where we rant and discuss and argue and fight for our favourites. And by June, the voting starts, each of us picking five favourites. The 40 with the most votes make up the Long List.
Now, you'll recognize lots of names here, starting with Neil Young. He doesn't make it very often, but this year many reviewers thought his album Le Noise was a worthy return to form. Then there's Arcade Fire. This should be an obvious choice, since the band won not only the Juno Award, but the Grammy Award too, for Album of the Year. But there's been some backlash about The Suburbs, the group's last album, among the critics. Some argue it didn't have a great lyrical concept, and that the group sound has become a bit of a cliche since their beloved first album, Funeral. There's a chance you won't even see it make the Short List of ten albums which will be the next step. Other names include Ron Sexsmith, Buck 65, Luke Doucet, East Coasters Sloan, Jenn Grant and Hey Rosetta!, and a whole bunch of people who are pretty unheralded in the mainstream: Hooded Fang, Miracle Fortress, Imaginary Cities and Land Of Talk.
Now, New Brunswick does have several jurors on the panel, so we're well-represented proportionately for the voting. But not too many of our acts make it in. Polaris voters, by and large, go for young and alternative, as rock music critics have done for so long. You don't find many blues fans or folk fans, and I don't know if many Acadians get heard for that matter. This year though the panel did make a big deal out of the alternative music in small town Sackville. Artists there have been catching their attention for a bit, thanks to the interest in sometime resident and previous nominee Julie Doiron, and the scene she help start, the Sappy Records bunch. Julie's moved on for now, but some of her old cohorts are still making vibrant music there, and the Sappy Festival is considered one of the best in the country, happening again this year over the August long weekend. Two Sappy mainstays are on the long list. Fred Squire, who made the album March 12 is there. Fred has recorded with Julie, on solo work and in the succesful Daniel, Fred and Julie album of 2009 of folk music, great old-time harmonies with Daniel Romano in that trio. The other one is Shotgun Jimmie. Jimmie and Fred used to play together, as Shotgun and Jaybird, and are still pals, Fred's on track 13 on Jimmie's disc. Jimmie's also worked with Joel Plaskett this year, and the two have a shared 45 single out right now, but this prize nomination is for his recent album Transistor Sister. Both Fred and Jimmie have garnered a lot of attention over the past few weeks for their work from the Polaris jurors. I was just reading another rave for Fred today on the Polaris insider forum. Will either make the Short List? Can small-town Canada knock off superstars Neil Young and Arcade Fire? In the Polaris voting, anything is possible.