This just in: Polaris does not like jazz much. Or blues.
On a Thursday afternoon at the National Music Centre in Calgary, the long list of nominees for the 2014 Polaris Prize was announced. It is called the long list for a reason – 40 albums make the first round of cuts for the annual national music prize, voted upon by some 200 music journalists – so there weren’t many shocking omissions among the contending LPs. Sure, the Juno-nominated album Loved Me Back to Life by Celine Dion and Robin Thicke’s Grammy-nominated big seller Blurred Lines weren’t on the long list, but anyone thinking those discs would be seriously considered for Polaris recognition clearly hasn’t been paying attention to the body’s indie-centric voting history.
It is a top 40, but it is not the late Casey Kasem’s Top 40.
The 2014 long list is diverse, boasting probable front-running discs by the hip-hop superstar Drake (Nothing Was the Same), the folky Ontario warbler Basia Bulat (Tall Tall Shadow), the Vancouver-based rap laureate Shad (Flying Colours), the throat-singing Inuk dazzler Tanya Tagaq (Animism), the bluesy, poetry-loving electro-folk duo AroarA (In the Pines), the Toronto melodic-punk purveyors PUP (self-titled), and the loudly experimental Asian-Canadian collective Yamantaka // Sonic Titan (Uzu).
But while Polaris celebrates artists operating outside the mainstream, jazz music has never been part of its eclectic taste. There was anticipation among some music journalists this year, however, that the melodious art might receive more attention. Gypsy-swing specialists Adrian Raso and Fanfare Ciocarlia, Juno-winning orchestral jazzer Christine Jensen and Montrealer Marianne Trudel (for her Trifolia project) all seemed poised for Polaris acknowledgment this time around.
But it didn’t happen. Only Toronto progressive jazz-hop trio BADBADNOTGOOD (for III) was recognized. Neither did it happen for the Missouri-bred, Vancouver-based bluesman Jim Byrnes, whose St. Louis Times seemed to be of long-list calibre. Blues, of course, could be considered the red-haired stepchild of genres, at least when comes to its historical treatment at the hands of Polaris voters.
Another notable long-list omission is Kevin Drew’s sublime solo effort Darlings. Polaris doesn’t dig the overdog, and Drew is one of those due to his membership in the big-time indie-rock collective Broken Social Scene. Likewise, previous Polaris winner Arcade Fire, while making the long list for its boldly conceived and richly self-hyped Reflektor, is not seen as a serious contender by the Canadian music cognoscenti for this year’s prize. On the other hand, Arcade Fire collaborator and erudite chamber-pop maestro Owen Pallett (who, as Final Fantasy, won the inaugural Polaris in 2006 for He Poos Clouds) made the list of nominees and is considered a serious threat to become the prize’s first multiple winner, this time for In Conflict.
The next step in the race for the $30,000 prize happens when the 10-album short list is announced on July 15 at the Drake Hotel in Toronto.
Last year’s winners were Montreal’s adventurers in drone rock, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, who ruffled feathers by declaring their dissatisfaction with the process. “Organizing a gala just so musicians can compete against each other for a novelty-sized cheque doesn’t serve the cause of righteous music at all,” was part of the band’s statement.
The 2014 Polaris gala will be held on Sept. 22 at the Carlu in Toronto. Some are more jazzed about it than others.
The 2014 Polaris Music Prize Long List:
The Arcade Fire – Reflektor
AroarA – In The Pines
Austra – Olympia
Philippe B – Ornithologie, la nuit
BADBADNOTGOOD – III
Basia Bulat – Tall Tall Shadow
Chromeo – White Women
Cousins – The Halls Of Wickwire
Cowboy Junkies/Various Artists – The Kennedy Suite
The Darcys -Warring
Dead Obies – Montréal $ud
Mac DeMarco – Salad Days
DIANA – Perpetual Surrender
Drake – Nothing Was The Same
Freedom Writers – NOW
Fresh Snow – I
Frog Eyes – Carey’s Cold Spring
Gorguts – Colored Sands
Tim Hecker – Virgins
Jimmy Hunt – Maladie d’amour
Jessy Lanza – Pull My Hair Back
Kalle Mattson – Someday, The Moon Will Be Gold
Moonface – Julia With Blue Jeans On
Mounties – Thrash Rock Legacy
Odonis Odonis – Hard Boiled Soft Boiled
Owen Pallett – In Conflict
Pink Mountaintops – Get Back
PUP – PUP
The Sadies – Internal Sounds
Shad – Flying Colours
Shooting Guns – Brotherhood of the Ram
Solids – Blame Confusion
Rae Spoon – My Prairie Home
The Strumbellas – We Still Move On Dance Floors
Tanya – Tagaq Animism
Thus Owls – Turning Rocks
Timber Timbre – Hot Dreams
Chad VanGaalen – Shrink Dust
Bry Webb – Free Will
YAMANTAKA // SONIC TITAN – UZU