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Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Sean Michaels is photographed in Toronto, Ontario, Tuesday, November 11, 2014.Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Seyi Shay – Jangilova (2015)

As soon as you hit the road you begin to think you might be able to change the weather. It's raining here, it's hailing there, sunny over here; maybe you could nudge the season over by taking the train to Belleville, by catching a flight to Saint Pierre and Miquelon. This week I turned on a dumbfounding new song by Nigeria's Seyi Shay, a song so beautifully self-assured that it seems like it could announce any change it wanted: snow flurry to heatwave, Belleville to Benin City, spring to summer. It altered everything – turned my taupe Ottawa hotel room into a balmy paradise, somewhere with trade winds and splashes, a synthesizer solo like a palm bush full of winking birds.

Nancy Pants – Happy (2014)

Friends announce they're leaving town. The first, selfish thought: "WHY ME?!!!!" We like to have our loved ones close by – keeping pals as companions, treating shared geography like a co-signed manifesto. But not all roads lead together; not every story progresses the same way. If we're honest with ourselves, the pursuit of happiness is often lonely. It takes courage to choose for yourself; it requires you to reckon with your fear. And so Nancy Pants's song of happiness isn't just gambol and skip – it's also clang and chug, yowl and yelp. This Montreal garage band will soon be of Montreal and Toronto. Their chucks will carry some of Queen West's dust. This is great news for anyone along the 401 whose garden needs some thrashers, whose wedding needs some crashers: Nancy Pants's catchy cacophony will be racking up a lot of miles. But I'll miss the certainty of their racket on St-Laurent or Champagneur. I'll have to dream it sometimes, in my sleep.

Jack Ladder and the Dreamlanders, featuring Sharon Van Etten – Come on Back This Way (2014)

Less than a month after Jay Z announced the relaunch of Tidal, his music-streaming platform, analysts are declaring it a flop. The heavily marketed app has plunged out of the top download charts; meanwhile, numbers are up for Pandora and Spotify, the subscription service's main rivals. All of this is lousy for artists – for superstars like Hov as well as for sleepers like Australia's Jack Ladder. At this stage, if streaming royalty rates stand a chance of getting fairer they need either government intervention or healthy competition. Lacking a campaign for the former, musicians' best hope is that contending services recognize the tactical advantage of winning independent artists' approbation. It's one thing to promise fair compensation for hit makers, as Tidal has done; it's another to make sure that the artists who most need the money get an equal share of the pie. Ladder may not get rich on his baritone voice, his throwback synthpop like Nick Cave via the Eurythmics, but he deserves to see a little treasure – fair wages for good work.

Sean Michaels received the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel Us Conductors. He is the editor of the music blog Said the Gramophone.