A dizzying array of musicians from distinctly different backgrounds round out this year’s selection of Polaris Music Prize nominees.
Ten contenders were revealed for the $50,000 award, which goes to the best album from a Canadian artist or band. Among them is Antisocialites, the second release from dream-pop band Alvvays, and Freudian, the breakout debut by R&B singer Daniel Caesar.
Others on the short list include operatic tenor Jeremy Dutcher’s Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, on which he duets with recordings captured in the Wolastoq language over a century ago, and a punchy effort from rock band Weaves.
The Polaris winner is chosen by a large team of journalists, broadcasters and bloggers, irrespective of genre or sales, and will be announced on Sept. 18 at a gala presentation held at Toronto’s Carlu. A webcast will be hosted by CBC Music.
Here’s a look at several highlights from the full list of nominees.
Rarely does a performer soar to the heights of Daniel Caesar in less than a year, but the Oshawa, Ont.-raised R&B singer’s debut, Freudian, was received like few other albums in recent memory. Its tender, soulful tracks created buzz on streaming music services before it captured the hearts of Grammy voters – scoring two nominations at the most recent awards show. The singer, born Ashton Simmonds, also sold out five nights in Toronto last December, making it seem like he almost came out of nowhere for many music listeners. His rise proves that while his fan base might be under the radar, his music certainly isn’t.
Two potent albums on the Polaris list dig up archival recordings from very different sources to spotlight for the damage levelled on Indigenous communities over the years. The Snotty Nose Rez Kids, a Vancouver-based duo, draw on audio samples from cartoons and Oprah’s talk show to provide a framework for their raps about racism in Canada on The Average Savage. Jeremy Dutcher’s debut album, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, finds parallels between the trained operatic singer’s voice and audio captured nearly a century ago of his ancestors. Dutcher, who was raised partly in the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, sings the album entirely in the endangered Wolastoq language in hopes of preserving its roots.
Sounds from la belle province this year showcase a thriving community that can’t be pinned to one genre. The pensive and insular second album from pianist Jean-Michel Blais, Dans ma main, was recorded almost entirely between the hours of 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. Bursts of glam rock and sometimes jovial French pop carry Hubert Lenoir’s Darlene, an album that mainly tells the story of a young woman who falls for an American guy who visits Quebec City with a plan to commit suicide by jumping from Montmorency Falls. Congolese-Canadian Pierre Kwenders takes a totally different path on Makanda at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time, a punchy album sung in four languages and flavoured with inspirations from hip hop, electronic and Afropop music.
Whether it’s singing about marijuana or playing into the dreamy world it inspires, a number of Polaris nominees find themes appropriately timed to the legalization of marijuana, set for this fall. Indie-grunge duo Partner, from Sackville, N.B., open their debut album, In Search of Lost Time, with the song Everybody Knows, all about paranoid weed smokers, while Toronto pop rockers Alvvays drift into their own fantasies on Antisocialites, a collection of jangly guitar tracks led by singer Molly Rankin’s mesmerizing voice. It’s the second time the band has been up for the Polaris prize, after their 2014 debut scored a nomination as well.
Other contenders this year have also experienced the embrace of the Polaris jury before, including Toronto-based expat Meghan Remy, who performs as U.S. Girls. She was in the running two years ago and returns with her 2018 album In A Poem Unlimited, a collaborative effort with other local musicians that explores the nuances of gender and politics. Only a year after first being shortlisted for the Polaris, Weaves is back with sharper compositions and more focused ideas on their second album, Wide Open. Two of the tracks include the punctuation of Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq, who took home the prize in 2014.