The Polaris Music Prize is a not-for-profit organization that awards $50,000 annually to the winner of Canada’s Album of the Year. Native Canadian folk legend Buffy Sainte-Marie walked away with last year’s prestigious prize for the stunning Power in the Blood. This year we have some familiar faces, including Black Mountain, Grimes, and Jessy Lanza. 2016 marks the third nomination for Basia Bulat, placing her among a handful of others who have accomplished this feat. Nearly 200 members from local and national media are jurors, eleven of which are specially selected to sit on the Grand Jury at the Polaris Gala.
Can’t wait until September 19th for the big decision? Indie Underground has got you covered. Get acquainted with this year’s nominees and check out our prediction to win this year’s Polaris Prize at the bottom of this article!
Black Mountain – IV
Black Mountain‘s newest effort mixes classic rock riffs with 80’s pop synths, delivering vocal performances by both Stephen and Amber that linger with impending doom. Compared to previous releases their sound is more ambitious and draws influences from bands such as Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. Expressive, effects-laden guitar solos cut through atmospheric strings on tracks like “Space to Bakersfield.” Amber’s dreamy vocals drift in and out, blending seamlessly with the instrumentation. An ode to the past, IV avoids feeling like an anachronism thanks to its unabashed self-awareness and artful production style.
Basia Bulat – Good Advice
Heartbreak is often one of the hardest things for us to endure. For singer-songwriter Basia Bulat, taking a 600 mile road trip to Kentucky to record her new album seemed like the best kind of therapy. Bittersweet folk melodies are the subject matter of love, loss and coming to terms with the not-so-distant past. From the confessional pop number “Fool” to the peacefully fatalistic closer “Someday Soon,” she has deeply personal stories to tell and that makes her all the more relatable.
Grimes – Art Angels
Indie pop-star and fashion icon Grimes‘ fourth release marks the clearest pop articulation of her sound to to date. While being Claire’s most accessible record, it is still unmistakably Grimes. Eccentric and subversive, she takes feminist themes and expresses them through a medium that demands our attention. The industrial influences heard on past works such as Visions are few and far between on Art Angels. Claire’s ethereal vocals are also front and center, playing a much larger role in song structure and melody than they did before. Excited to see where the future takes her.
Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion
After bursting onto the scene with “Call Me Maybe” back in 2012, many critics wrote Carly Rae Jepsen off as a one-hit wonder. The song was undeniably catchy, reaching number one in a staggering 18 countries. It was almost inevitable from that point onward everything she did would be judged in comparison to that single. With infectious tracks such as “I Really Like You” and 90’s house-inspired “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance,” it seems the former Canadian Idol finalist is here to stay. Over 200 tracks were originally composed for her follow-up album and the result is a cohesive group of songs that contain hook after hook of sugary-sweet desire.
Kaytranada – 99.9%
Montreal-based beat maker Louis Celestin aka Kaytranada makes a stunning debut on XL, blending an organic mix of future house, soul, and jazz. Mellowed out chords pulse underneath grooves that feel unquantized but never out of place. Possessing a masterful ear for complex rhythm patterns, there is rarely a track without some kind of syncopation. Guest collaborators include Anderson Paak, Vic Mensa, and Phonte, three artists who are all trying to carve their own path. There is no doubt Kaytranada is doing the same, further perfecting a signature sound he’s been developing for several years. Despite being his first major release, the Haitian-born producer already feels self-established. I only expect greater things to come.
Jessy Lanza – Oh No
Minimalistic 80’s soundscapes leave just enough room for Jessy Lanza’s sensual vocals to remain the focal point of her songs. Caught somewhere between the worlds of Kate Bush and Aaliyah, the Hamilton raised singer has an unconventional approach to writing music that instantly draws you in. There is something strangely intimate about this record in the way you feel directly implicated by every word she says. On “I Talk BB” Lanza delivers a soulful falsetto over lush piano chords and airy synth pads. Rather than dating itself, her sophomore album re-imagines an era that few can truly pull off.
PUP – The Dream Is Over
Punk rockers PUP return with a brutally honest and explosive follow-up to their self-titled debut. Packed with passion and fervent desperation, Babcock sings like a man who has got nothing to lose and is damn okay with it. Self-destruction at its finest, the band feels like they’re on the verge of blowing their amps at any given moment. Lyrical themes center around failed relationships, bad habits and reckless behaviors of the main protagonist. From anthemic group chants to lightning-speed rhythm sections, the pace is unrelenting and we are rarely given a chance to breathe over the span of 30 minutes. It’s this bone-rattling energy that makes PUP’s latest such a rewarding experience.
Andy Shauf – The Party
Not all house parties are what they are cut out to be – just ask soft-spoken singer-songwriter Andy Shauf. Pensive and observant, Shauf’s mellow folk melodies tell an outsider’s narrative to a social gathering you can’t help but feel a little left out of. Pretty Nick Drake-esque acoustics are crafted around ornate arrangements that are equally unorthodox as they are poignant. On “Martha Sways” the narrator finds himself dancing with someone who resembles a past lover, transporting him back in time to memories long-since forgotten. There is a raw kind of authenticity to Shauf’s voice and lyrics that sets himself apart from the crowd.
U.S. Girls – Half Free
The warped pop sensibilities of Meghan Remy shine through on the band’s most polished release to date. Their noise and avant-garde roots are present throughout, helping paint an unsettling picture of broken relationships and licentious men. Despite the unfortunate set of circumstances Remy finds herself in, she carries on with a fearlessness that is as unshakable as it is liberating. The album’s haunting opener “Sororal Feelings” does a good job of setting the tone, turning what easily could’ve been a simple breakup song into political protest.
White Lung – Paradise
Vancouver punk outfit White Lung returns with a full-length bursting with energy and clarity. Walls of heavy guitars accompany Mish Barber-Way’s caustic singing and pounding drums. They have matured a lot since 2014’s Deep Fantasy and it shows in their approach to song-writing. While possessing more composure than previous efforts, there are no compromises made to the band’s sheer intensity or subject matter.
Polaris Prediction 2016: Grimes – Art Angels