Polaris Prize ceremonies are tonight, and host Grant Lawrence is trying his best to prepare jokes that won’t offend the corporate sponsors, the artists, or last year’s host Jian Ghomeshi. It’s a thankless job. Buns will be thrown.
It's no secret I'm rooting for Miracle Fortress, the one and only album on the list that I find consistently rewarding. The rest of the list, for me, consists of either of great artists with several weak tracks, or of people I never would have considered in the first place. Five Roses is a gem from beginning to end, no qualifying statements necessary. Read my review here.
Because I can't resist, this is how I would argue it in the jury room:
Arcade Fire: When it's good, it's great, and the best material here will outlast most other records released in the past year. But though successful on many levels, there are still a couple of tracks here (namely the first two) that are mediocre at best. See interviews starting here. See review here.
Besnard Lakes: I realise that there's a "critical consensus" about how great this band is (according to Brad Wheeler in today's Metacritic-combing Globe and Mail article), but other than the opening track I don't hear anything but sludgy shoegazey guitars, pretty vocals singing no melodies, monotonous and soulless rhythm, and repetitively dull lyrics. I know they're nice people. I know Jace Lacek is a great producer. But this band leaves me stone cold.
Dears: I've always found this band hot and cold, but even this skeptic thought No Cities Left was a grand achievement. This, on the other hand, had me pressing 'skip' halfway through every plodding track. I'm glad Mr. Lightburn claims to be feeling more optimistic these days, but you'd never guess that from the tepid music found here.
Julie Doiron: Great record, her best since Love Tara. See interview here.
Feist: Lots of great songs, but there's a reserve here that keeps me at a distance. Plus, a couple of weaker tracks derail the album's overall strengths. Hear my pre-Reminder interview here.
Joel Plaskett Emergency: Musically, this is the most fun album on the list, and is tailor-made for anyone who grew up loving rock'n'roll on AM radio. "Fashionable People" is a candidate for single of the year, and elsewhere Plaskett covers all his favourite genre bases easily. Lyrically, however, he doesn't always hit his mark, and it's the only thing that stops me from loving this album outright. See interview here.
Junior Boys: Occasionally they have great songs, but have never struck me as a great band and this is by no means a great album. At least half of it puts me to sleep. Which is too bad--seeing as how they're the only act on the list to break the indie rock hegemony.
Miracle Fortress: Practically flawless. See Helen Spitzer's interview here.
Chad VanGaalen: A truly great artist, but this is not his best work--and apparently he doesn't think so either, judging by reports of comments he's made at live shows. I think he got this nod because it took a long time for most jurists to discover the far superior debut Infiniheart.
Patrick Watson: There's no question that the guy--and his band--is infinitely talented, but his music occupies the muddy ground between songwriting and soundscape experimentalism, often failing at the former while the more abstract moments are the ones that succeed. Either way, it doesn't add up to a coherent record. Watson is still stuck in the "most promising" department rather than deserving this prize. Read my Eye piece here.
Who will take it? Looking at the final jury, I haven’t the slightest idea. That’s a decidedly mixed bag of people—hell, we might even have a hung jury. One thing is for sure, however: unlike last year’s Toronto-heavy jury selecting a Toronto artist from a list dominated by Torontonians, there won’t be any of the usual catty Canadian behaviour calling out the winner’s geography as a principal political factor in the prize. Still, it’s always a challenge to keep politics out of a decision like that: let’s hope the best album (on that list) wins.
Which, of course, is Miracle Fortress.
And if you want an award you can vote on yourself, head over to SOCAN's Echo Songwriting Prize and vote for either Nathan, Feuermusik, Abdominal, Besnard Lakes or Chad VanGaalen. Winner gets 5000 clams.