Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Moneyballing the 2016 Polaris Longlist

I know it's been a week now, but I've been off the continent. So in case you missed it, your 2016 Polaris Music Prize longlist looks like this, with my analysis below:

Art Bergmann – The Apostate
Justin Bieber – Purpose
Black Mountain – IV  
Jean-Michel Blais – Il
Un Blonde – Good Will Come to You 
Basia Bulat – Good Advice
Daniel Caesar – Pilgrim’s Paradise 
Jazz Cartier – Hotel Paranoia
Tanika Charles – Soul Run
City and Colour – If I Should Go Before You
Couer de Pirate – Roses  
Dead Obies – Gesamtkunstwerk  
Destroyer – Poison Season
Dilly Dally – Sore
Drake – Views
Essaie Pas – Deman est un autre nuit
Fred Fortin – Ultramarr
Foxtrott – A Taller Us
Grimes – Art Angels
Half Moon Run – Sun Leads Me On
Veda Hille – Love Waves
Carly Rae Jepsen – E*MO*TION
Junior Boys – Big Black Coat
Kaytranada – 99.9% 
Jessy Lanza – Oh No
Michelle McAdorey – Into Her Future
Majid Jordan – s/t
Nap Eyes – Thought Rock Fish Scale
Safia Nolin – Limoilou
Operators – Blue Wave
Peaches – Rub
Pup – The Dream is Over
Daniel Romano – Mosey
Andy Shauf – The Party 
Suuns – Hold/Still
U.S. Girls – Half-Free
The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness
White Lung – Paradise
Donovan Woods – Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled 

Un Blonde
This marks a strong comeback for Montreal, who only had 6 longlisters in 2015; normally Toronto and Montreal split 75% of the longlist. To account for mobility, Basia Bulat is counted as both Toronto (her current residence) and Montreal (her formative career years); likewise, Calgary’s Un Blonde moved to Montreal somewhat recently.

Toronto: 15 (includes Basia Bulat)
Montreal: 14 (includes Basia Bulat, Un Blonde)
Vancouver: 5 (Destroyer, Black Mountain, White Lung, Veda Hille, Carly Rae Jepsen)
Calgary: 2 (includes Un Blonde)
Hamilton: 2 (Junior Boys, Jessy Lanza)
Halifax: 1 (Nap Eyes)
Regina: 1 (Andy Shauf)
World domination via Stratford, Ont.: 1 (guess)

West of Ontario: 8

East of Quebec: 1

Art Bergmann
It ain’t nothin’ but a number. Last year’s winner, Buffy Sainte-Marie, was 74 at the time.

Oldest longlister: Art Bergmann, 63. Runner-up: Michelle McAdorey, whose exact age I don’t claim to know, but based on historical record, I’d say 52.

Others on this side of 40, as far as I can tell based on dubious Internet sources: Black Mountain’s Stephen McBean (47?), Destroyer’s Dan Bejar (43), Fred Fortin (45), Veda Hille (47), Peaches (47), Junior Boys (just a wild guess).

Youngest longlister: Un Blonde (19)

Other babies: Kaytranada (23), Jazz Cartier (22), Justin Bieber (22)

Personally, I think Kaytranada will win the prize this year—which would make him the youngest winner ever, and an amusing 180 after Buffy’s win.

Justin Bieber
This is about par for the course based on previous longlists, though this is easily the biggest year for chart pop in Polaris history; Tegan and Sara are really the only prior representatives (and arguably Drake). There is a strong chance that at least four shortlist artists could be bona fide mainstream stars, not just Drake.

Electro: 5 (Junior Boys, Peaches, Essaie Pas, Jessy Lanza, Foxtrott)
Hip-hop: 4 (Jazz Cartier, Drake, Kaytranada, Dead Obies)
Instrumental artists: 2 (Jean-Michel Blais, Kaytranada)
Chart pop: 3 (Justin Bieber, Carly-Rae Jepsen, Weeknd)
Aggressive: 3 (Pup, Dilly Dally, White Lung)
Countryish: 2 (Donovan Woods, Daniel Romano)
R&B: 3 (Daniel Caesar, Tanika Charles, Majid Jordan) also Weeknd, Bieber

Veda Hille
All the solo ladies: 11
Lady-led bands, or ladies in duos: 3 (Dilly Dally, White Lung, Essaie Pas)
Singing ladies who co-front bands: 1 (Black Mountain)
Non-singing lady instrumentalists in otherwise male bands: 2 (Operators, Strumbellas)

Percentage of 2016 longlisted acts featuring women: 42.5%

(The following numbers are for solo acts and lady-led bands but also for acts like Godspeed and Fucked Up where women are supporting players)
Ladies of 2015: 37.5% of longlist, 40% of shortlist
Ladies of 2014: 25% of longlist, 50% of shortlist
Ladies of 2013: 32.5% of longlist, 70% of shortlist
Ladies of 2012: 37.5% of longlist, 70% of shortlist
Ladies of 2011: 45% of longlist, 40% of shortlist

Franco: 5 (Essaie Pas, Coeur de Pirate, Dead Obies, Fred Fortin, Safia Nolin) 

Non-white artists, based on incredibly superficial, patronizingly racist, probably inaccurate yet arguably necessary assessment for diversity purposes: 7 (17.5%) (Un Blonde, Drake, Jazz Cartier, Kaytranada, Weeknd, Daniel Caesar, Tanika Charles)

Basia Bulat
Check your CV
Previous Polaris experience: 19

Debuts: 9 (Blais, Caesar, Tanika Charles, Foxtrott, Dilly Dally, Kaytranada, Majid Jordan, Safia Nolin, Foxtrott)

Kinda debuts: 1 (Operators, a band led by 2x shortlister Dan Boeckner)

New to Polaris (includes those debuts): 21

Previous winners: 0 (though none had an eligible release)

Previous shortlisters: 8 (Black Mountain, Basia x2, Destroyer, Drake x3, Grimes, Junior Boys, Jessy Lanza, Weeknd), plus Fred Fortin was a member of Galaxie

Previous longlisters: 11 (City and Colour, Coeur de Pirate x2, Jazz Cartier, Dead Obies, Fred Fortin, Veda Hille, Pup, Romano x2, Suuns, Strumbellas, White Lung)

Polaris Hall of Fame: Drake and Basia Bulat are making their fourth appearance on a Polaris list; Romano, The Weeknd and Coeur de Pirate are now at three. Operators’ Dan Boeckner is also now at at whopping five, albeit with different projects, having been shortlisted and longlisted twice each with Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs.

Previous Hall of Fame members: Last year, in the 10th year of the prize, the New Pornographers, Joel Plaskett, Patrick Watson and Tom Wilson (Lee Harvey Osmond, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings) all made their fourth appearance on a Polaris list.

The Reaches of Peaches
Last year marked the first Polaris Heritage Awards, given to an album in each of the four decades of music that preceded the inaugural Polaris Music Prize in 2006; Peaches’ The Teaches of Peaches won for the 2000s. Yet Peaches has been snubbed by Polaris until now; Rub, her first album in six years, is the first of her last three albums to make a Polaris list.

Jonathan Hayward/CP
This is not the Junos:
While Justin Bieber might raise eyebrows on a Polaris list—alongside Juno bait Drake and The Weeknd—plenty of Juno winners and nominees who were eligible during the Polaris period (June 1, 2015-May 31, 2016) do not appear on the long list:

Shawn Mendes, Hedley, Marianas Trench, Walk Off the Earth, Francesco Yates, Young Empires, Majical Cloudz, Bryan Adams, Matthew Good, Sheepdogs, Kardinal Offishall, k-os

Of records released in the Polaris eligibility period, the Juno nominees in all following categories were snubbed: country, jazz, franco, instrumental, classical, roots, blues, reggae, Aboriginal, world, electronic, metal.

Heroes to zeroes:
Anyone who thinks Polaris keeps giving free passes to previously nominated artists might want to talk to these former shortlisters, all eligible but absent from the 2016 longlist.

Metric (shortlist x3)
Besnard Lakes (shortlist x2, longlist x1)
Young Galaxy (shortlist x1, longlist x2)
Colin Stetson (shortlist x2, longlist x1)
Holy Fuck (shortlist x2)
Plants and Animals (shortlist x1, longlist x1)
The Dears (shortlist x1, longlist x1)
Radio Radio (shortlist x1)
Mac DeMarco (shortlist x1)

Tim Hecker's Love Streams
I wouldn’t have been surprised to see any of these critically acclaimed artists’ records on the long list; I even voted for some of them!

Geoff Berner
Jim Bryson (longlist x1)
Alessia Cara
Jason Collett (longlist x1)
Tim Hecker (longlist x2)
Hooded Fang (longlist x1)
Corb Lund (longlist x1)
Majical Cloudz (longlist x1)
Selina Martin
Lindi Ortega (longlist x1)
Venetian Snares
You Say Party

Shortlist prediction:
I usually get between three to five titles wrong, so have your salt shaker ready. Lots of heavyweights this year, so this is a pretty conservative guess. I’m looking forward to being surprised. Shortlist will be announced July 14.

Justin Bieber
Black Mountain
Coeur de Pirate
Carly Rae Jepsen
Kaytranada (my guess for winner)
Jessy Lanza
The Weeknd

As always, any fact-checking on any of the above stats is more than welcome.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

The Tragically Hip – Man Machine Poem

The Tragically Hip – Man Machine Poem (Universal)

“Just give me the news,” goes the opening line of the lead single from The Tragically Hip’s final album. We’ve all heard the horrible news by now. The news is that singer Gord Downie has terminal brain cancer. The news is that this is the final Tragically Hip album. The news is that this summer’s tour will be the last. Nobody wanted that news.

That news, however, came to the band shortly after this album was written and recorded in the fall of 2015. Man Machine Poem, produced by Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew and the Stills’ Dave Hamelin, is not something Downie or the band knew would be a final statement, and should not be treated as such. Most important, long-dormant Hip fans who now have a sudden urge to see their teenage heroes one last time need to realize—dear God, if they haven’t by now—that this is not the same band who made “New Orleans is Sinking.” News flash: The Hip has not been that band for a very, very long time. If your impression of these Canadian heroes ossified in the early 1990s, then by all means cling to those first three albums during your mourning period.

The Hip’s discography of the last 20 years is full of hits and plenty of misses, as surely even the most diehard fan will tell you. Will anyone be requesting songs from 2004’s In Between Evolution this summer? Not likely. On late-career peaks World Container (2006) and We Are the Same (2009), Bob Rock whipped the Hip into shape by helping them craft peppy pop songs (“Coffee Girl”), return-to-form rockers (“Family Band”) and ambitious song cycles (“Depression Suite”), which though successful, still felt a bit like the band members trying to fit into old pants—or new pants; either way, not their own goddam pants. Drew and Hamelin, on the other hand, turn the band loose, encouraging the Hip to dive into dream states, to paint with colours that more closely match Downie’s lyrical abstractions. Not that the producers are completely hands off: the songs here are intensely focused; there is no time wasted on pointless jamming, and, miraculously and most important, we don’t hear the same guitar solos we heard on every single Tragically Hip album before this one.

“Nothing works, and nothing worse / I’ve tried nothing, and I’m out of ideas,” sings Downie on “Great Soul,” which bears more than a passing resemblance to 1994’s “Grace, Too.” But really, he’s just baiting us, because this is band that suddenly seems bursting with new ideas—nothing remotely revolutionary in the world of rock music, of course, but the culmination of the direction has been headed since 1994’s Day For Night. Back then, they consciously pulled the plug on stadium rock and started taking lessons from such disparate teachers as Daniel Lanois and Eric’s Trip. Likewise, here the Hip dwell in dark sonic corners, rarely rocking out, delving into texture and nuance. This is the band they’ve been trying to be; Drew and Hamelin got them there.

The album opens with a tape-manipulated, pitch-shifting vocal; the rest of the incredibly sparse song sounds like nothing else the band has ever recorded. On the gorgeous and sparse “In Sarnia,” Downie sounds anguished, almost inconsolable, his lyrics collapsing out of the meter, often unintelligible; it sounds like a man giving everything he has in a jittery, nervous performance at odds with the languid groove. It’s a harrowing and gutsy performance no matter the context, especially now.

When the band does play it relatively straight, like on first single “In a World Possessed by the Human Mind,” they sound triumphant, not timid, like they’re ready to go another 20 years. Even a mid-tempo song called “Tired as Fuck”—which, when coming from a rock band in their 50s, practically invites mockery—has a strut and swagger to it, while Downie sings, “I want to stop so much I almost don’t want to stop.”

Kevin Drew says this album is about “memory, transformation and truth.” That’s all any of us could ask for in a document that turned out to be a final will and testament. “I want you to enchant my days, honour it daily,” sings Downie. That’s worked both ways now, for 27 years, for 13 albums, for the infinite times this band’s work has soundtracked and illuminated our lives.

Stream: “In a World Possessed by the Human Mind,” “Man,” “Great Soul”