The shortlist for this year’s Polaris Music Prize has been announced and it contains a few surprises. For the most part, big artists like Drake, The Weeknd and Justin Bieber have been ignored, leaving the list wide open to those who may not be quite as well known. Of course, this is the awards ceremony that gave their 2014 prize to Tanya Tagaq, an Inuk throat singer, so there’s a precedent for rewarding the more underrated artists at Polaris. Here’s all you need to know about this year’s nominees.
WHO: Vancouver experimental-rockers Black Mountain.
ALBUM: ‘IV’, their fourth album and a return to form.
WHY: It’s full of jams that are indulgent, but also exciting and sound like they’re going to lift you off to another planet.
LISTEN: The big riffs and brass of ‘Florian Saucer Attack’.
WHO: Toronto folky Basia Bulat.
ALBUM: The Jim James-produced ‘Good Advice’.
WHY: Her previous albums have been gentle listens. Her fourth might not make you want to mosh, but it feels more electric than before, as if the break-up Bulat went through while writing it spurred her on to something more fired up.
LISTEN: The girl-group pop of ‘Fool’.
WHO: Grimes, aka Claire Boucher, the Montreal experimental weirdo unintentionally gunning for the big time.
ALBUM: The batshit, brilliant and massively poppy ‘Art Angels‘.
WHY: This was 2015’s finest album, no doubt about it. It took all the odd magic that made Boucher’s earlier releases so special and made them accessible without compromising any of her personality. Basically it pulled off the most difficult balancing act in music while providing us with some of the best songs she’s ever written.
LISTEN: ‘Kill V Maim’, the creme de la creme of Grimes’ back catalogue.
WHO: Carly Rae Jepsen, presumably the queen of being shortlisted for awards recognising Canadian talent.
ALBUM: Glistening, glossy pop triumph ‘E•MO•TION’.
WHY: It’s one of last year’s best albums, in any genre, and who saw that coming after ‘Call Me Maybe’? Despite the album being critically acclaimed, it didn’t sell well and has been undeservedly missed off a lot of other awards shortlists.
LISTEN: Independence anthem ‘Boy Problems’.
WHO: Kaytranada, XL-signed Haitian-Canadian producer and musician Louis Kelvin Celestin.
ALBUM: The perfectly summery ‘99.9%‘, which takes influence from hip-hop, house and old school disco.
WHY: It’s packed with loads of great collaborations with everyone from Craig David to Anderson.Paak, as well as brilliant moments when Kay puts himself into the spotlight.
LISTEN: The beefy, sunkissed ‘Lite Spots’.
WHO: Former jazz student turned electronica darling Jessy Lanza.
ALBUM: Celestial second album ‘Oh No‘.
WHY: It’s a record that isn’t afraid to invent, taking inspiration from all over the shop (PC Music’s cyber-space, Sade’s smoothness) and twisting it into something that sounds completely out of this world.
LISTEN: Glitchy banger ‘It Means I Love You’.
WHO: Toronto punks Pup, formerly known as Topanga.
ALBUM: Part break-up album, part insider account of band life ‘The Dream Is Over’.
WHY: Anyone who can write a song about how they write a song and make it as brutally brilliant as Pup do on ‘Familiar Patterns’ deserves to win an award, quite frankly.
LISTEN: The vitrolic and violent ‘If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will’.
WHO: Heartbreaking Saskwatchean singer/songwriter Andy Shauf.
ALBUM: Fly-on-the-wall record ‘The Party’, which covers 10 different social situations.
WHY: Shauf manages to get some of life’s biggest themes – love, death, fear – into his social observations while keeping them totally believable.
LISTEN:The slow and sombre ‘The Magician’.
WHO: Toronto-based Meghan Remy, aka US Girls.
ALBUM: ‘Half Free‘, a record of outsider, leftfield pop.
WHY: Remy doesn’t shy away from weighty subjects on the album. ‘Damn The Valley’ is about a war widow whose husband was killed in Afghanistan and the title track details a woman finding out her partner has cheated on her with sisters.
LISTEN: The aforementioned ‘Damn That Valley’.
WHO: LA/Vancouver trio White Lung, who’re one of the premier punk bands around right now.
ALBUM: The five-star beauty that is fourth album ‘Paradise’.
WHY: Mish Barber-Way and her pals proves that punk doesn’t always have to be aggressive, rounding off their ragged edges and adopting some of the gloss found on Hole‘s ‘Celebrity Skin’.
LISTEN: ‘Below’, Barber-Way’s “Stevie Nicks-meets-Celine Dion ballad”.