In Predictions...The 2010 Polaris Music Prize

>> Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Polaris. The North Star. A brilliant ball of plasma in the Ursa Minor Constellation directly above the North Pole. A star that signifies “you’re in the Great White North.”

The Polaris music prize. The annual award given to one brilliant record from Canada, voted upon by a constellation of Canadian music-biz folk. An album that signifies “you’re listening to the best music from the Great White North.”

Sales, label, genre? Irrelevant.

Perceived artistic merit? Relevant. Very much so.

On September 20th, 8:00 p.m. EST to be precise, this year’s Polaris prize will be awarded to one of the following ten nominees:

  • The Besnard Lakes - The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night
  • Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record
  • Caribou – Swim
  • Karkwa - Les Chemins De Verre
  • Dan Mangan - Nice, Nice, Very Nice
  • Owen Pallett - Heartland
  • Radio Radio - Belmundo Regal
  • The Sadies - Darker Circles
  • Shad - TSOL
  • Tegan and Sara - Sainthood

The winner’s star will shine even brighter thanks to the pervasive media spotlight that will immediately ensue. Album sales may go nova. More fans will gravitate toward shows. Plus, there are 20,000, umm, cubits awaiting the winner, which is a serious, umm, asteroid of change.

This year I thought I’d try some astrology, consult this year’s charts, intently watch the celestial bodies, and attempt to predict the winner.

Except once I sat down and gave all ten albums several careful, uninterrupted listens (and officially stopped thinking about feckless space lexicon), I realized there’s a significant difference between who I *want* to win and who I *think* will win. So, I decided to split my guess into two: one for my “heart” and one for my “head”. And, just for fun, add another choice, “upset,” in tribute to last year’s upset victory by Fucked Up. Don’t get me wrong. The Chemistry of Common Life is an impressive achievement and a deserving album. That it took home the prize simply surprised me. For the record, Damien Abraham admitted to being surprised too.

But, really, making predictions like these is only fun when other voices are involved, so I invited some local music writers (slash radio hosts, bloggers, and podcasters) to share their prognostications with Painting over Silence.

Thanks to everyone who took part.


Mykael Sopher, Editor/Writer, Painting over Silence

Heart: Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record

After being overwhelmed by the smart, original songwriting found throughout You Forgot It in People, I was surprisingly lukewarm to BSS’s self-titled third outing and wondered if the massive collective’s songwriting well had dried up. The 14 vibrant, diverse, well-executed, and, at times, triumphant rock songs populating Forgiveness quieted all doubts (see: “Texaco Bitches” and “Meet Me in the Basement”).

Head: The Besnard Lakes - The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night

With The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night, this Montreal-based band have, at last, perfected their sound. The muted alien tones, swirling post-apocalyptic psychedelics coupled with leader Jace Lasek’s banshee wail took a few listens to get used to; but, man, were they worth it.

Upset: Radio Radio – Belmundo Regal

A confession: Prior to it being shortlisted, I had never heard Belmundo Regal in its entirety. Once I sought it out, I fell head over heels for this Acadian trio’s fun, uplifting, clever, and multifarious hip-hop. The future of Canadian hip-hop is here.


Jen Zoratti, Staff Writer, Uptown Magazine

Heart: Tegan and Sara - Sainthood.

Reason? I'm a Polaris Music Prize juror and this record was the only one from my long list ballot to advance to the shortlist. I think this is Tegan and Sara's strongest record yet, and it's one I consistently keep coming back to.

Head: Owen Pallett - Heartland or The Besnard Lakes - The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night

Reason? Owen Pallett, formerly Final Fantasy, was the first artist to snag the Polaris in 2006 and The Besnard Lakes are former nominees. There's been lots of buzz about both these records among my fellow jury members, and rightly so. These are dense, ambitious albums.

Upset: The Sadies - Darker Circles

Reason? The Sadies have long been underdogs in the Canadian music scene. Darker Circles is a beautiful album by a band most worthy of some recognition.


Nigel Moore, Winnipeg Correspondent, Off The Grid (Rock 94 FM)

Heart: If the hundreds of dancing, sweaty hipsters who packed into the Pyramid to see Caribou's set in June are any indication, more than a few Winnipeg music fans wouldn't mind seeing Dan Snaith repeat as a Polaris winner for his swirling, psychedelic album Swim.

Head: Vancouver singer-songwriter Dan Mangan has been getting a lot of attention this year for his sophomore album Nice, Nice, Very Nice. With non-stop touring across the US, Europe and Canada, and three nominations for Western Canadian Music Awards, don't be surprised if this is Mangan's year.

Upset: The Short List is made up of two previous Polaris winners (Snaith and Owen Pallett) and several well-established indie-rock and rap artists (Tegan and Sara, Broken Social Scene, The Sadies, Shad), so it would be une vraie surprise if French indie-folk group Karkwa or Acadian trio Radio Radio, both relative unknowns by comparison, took the annual $20,000 award.


Michael Elves, Program Director/Radio Host, Thank God It’s Free Range (UMFM)

Heart: Shad - TSOL

I've listened to this album more than any other on the shortlist because it is head-and-shoulders above the rest. My guess is the title is an acronym for "The Sound Of Life"

Head: Shad - TSOL

This is the year when the stars align and the Polaris judges see eye-to-eye with me.

Upset: Radio Radio - Belmundo Regal

Last year they picked the band with the swear-word moniker to prove they were hip; this year maybe they choose the francophone band for similar reasons


Mike Duerksen, Arts Contributor, The Uniter

Heart: The Sadies.

Equally dark and intensively hopeful, this record is the perfect companion for those long Canadian prairie winters. Beautiful, yet heartbreaking; this one hits home.

Head: Owen Pallet.

Probably the most conceptual of the lot, Heartland is incredibly clever in its narrative and also unsuspectingly catchy. He's won a Polaris prize for inferior work before.

Upset: Shad.

In a list dominated by indie rock/pop, Shad's second Polaris-shortlist effort proves hip-hop can be fun, meaningful and relevant even to someone who shies away from the genre. Remember last year's big win for hardcore?


Jenny Henkelman, Radio Host, The Book of Right On (CKUW)

I don't make distinctions between "head" and "heart." Only one of my initial long-list votes made it through, and that's Shad. Clear-voiced and plain-spoken, with irresistible hooks and judicious sampling, TSOL is a winner.

It's hard to say what kind of a chance Shad has with the 12-member Grand Jury. Caribou has a shot again, I think. Even though Tegan and Sara's stuff has never been my thing, I'd be pleased if they took the prize. If Broken Social Scene wins, I'm going to punch myself in the face. Well, not really, but that's what it'll feel like to me if their bloated overindulgence takes the day.


Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson, Writer, The Winnipeg Free Press

Heart: Owen Pallett

The term "concept album" scares some people, so I wouldn't be surprised if Heartland doesn't get the Polaris nod (there's also the curse of having already won as Final Fantasy for He Poos Clouds). "The Great Elsewhere" is one of the year's best songs.

Head: Broken Social Scene

My second-favourite record on this list, Forgiveness Rock Record nearly clawed its way past Owen Pallett's Heartland. It's epic, fearless and easily the most cohesive effort by a band that sounds so comfortable.

Upset: The Besnard Lakes

I'd sort of love it if The Besnard Lakes took the Polaris this year. Their latest record deserves it as much as any on the list - it has such depth and texture that I get a bit lost in this record every time I hear it.


Jill Wilson, writer/editor, The Winnipeg Free Press

Heart: Radio Radio, Belmundo Regal. I hadn’t heard of, let alone heard, this Acadian trio until it was suggested as a long-list addition by several Polaris jurors. It was love on first listen: Belmundo Regal is horn-heavy francophone-rap fun. Who cares if the chiac lyrics are gibberish? I don’t know how much staying power it has, but it makes me smile every time I listen to it.

Head: Shad. I think it might be time for a hip-hop album to take home the Polaris and this one has the pedigree. It’s clever but not eggheaded; punchy and catchy from start to finish.

Upset: With so many repeat shortlisters to choose from, it has to be someone who hasn’t been on the radar. I’d be very, very surprised if Vancouver singer-songwriter Dan Mangan’s Nice, Nice Very Nice wins it.


Now it’s your turn: who do you think will take home this year's Polaris prize?


Anonymous,  14 September 2010 at 12:55  

head/heart/upset: shad!

Allan Lorde 14 September 2010 at 13:37  

Head and Heart: Shad. He's one of the dopest emcees in the country, and he's created an amazing album without curses or objectifying women. There are folks I know that don't like rap music at all, that think Shad is terrific. That's an accomplishment.
Upset: The Sadies. It'd be a welcome upset for me, as I like The Sadies and this album. They're critically acclaimed, but quiet and humble dudes...that's why their possible win could be considered an upset.

Anonymous,  14 September 2010 at 16:20  

Holy Fuck was robbed.

Brandon 14 September 2010 at 18:29  

I think Dan Mangan has a good shot, but I sincerely hope he doesn't win. I don't think they will, but wouldn't mind seeing The Sadies take home the prize.

Sean MC,  16 September 2010 at 15:57  

Mykael: BSS's self-titled album was their third (junior), not sophomore.

Anon: were Holy Fuck even eligible?

willlllll,  17 September 2010 at 21:58  

heart: besnard lakes
head: shad
upset: the sadies

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