Why We Love Canada’s Polaris Music Prize

Yesterday, we Canadians toasted our musical crème de la crème as the shortlist nominees for the sixth annual Polaris Music Prize were announced to the masses.

It’s our version of your Mercury, essentially, and in short I think that this year’s list proves that despite having a reputation for politeness, great beer and questionable slang, as a musical nation we’re way more than just “America Jr”.


And thanks to countless acts surpassing the typical “man in a beard wearing flannel” archetype, bands that’ve been unwilling to deign to the oh-so-tiring Canadian caricature have replaced banjos and acoustics with the necessary drama to – hopefully – romance even our most cynical geographical neighbours.

So without further adieu, here are some of the newer bands Polaris has recognised – and the ones you should, too.

They Made The Cut (Some Acts Who Made The Shortlist):

Austra (For the album ‘Feel It Break’)

Hard work pays off. And while singer Katie Stelmanis had previously earned a reputation as one of Toronto’s most powerful vocalists, the formation of a collective (with drummer Maya Postepski and bassist Dorian Wolf) combined with the amalgamation of theatrics, heavy beats and just enough drama made for the perfect proverbial storm that capitalized on our current goth-pop obsession. To be bewitched has never seemed so sweet.


Braids (For the album ‘Native Speaker’)

It’s rare that a bona fide buzz band goes on to prove naysayers wrong with the release of a mere seven-track full-length, but upon hearing the first notes of “Lemonade”, Braid’s liquid-smooth formula furthers the testament to burgeoning Canadian acts. A tapestry of story-telling and rousing instrumentals, upon hearing the group’s multi-textural debut effort, to say youth is wasted on the young is an insult to this Montreal four-piece.

The Weeknd (For the album ‘House of Balloons’)

With rumours of collaboration with Drake (who was arguably robbed of a Polaris nod in his own right), The Weeknd’s luscious brand of R&B is further proof that plaid shirts and nu-folk aren’t synonymous with Canadian music. Having seduced listeners since tracks were leaked late last year, Toronto singer Abel Tesfaye has only begun his courtship: with two follow-ups rumoured for summer and fall, they’ll be few who can reject his musical advances.

They Almost Made The Cut (Some Of Those Who Made The Longlist):

PS I Love You (For the album ‘Meet Me at the Muster Station’)

Powerful, relentless and boldly commanding, the Kingston duo of Paul Saulnier and Benjamin Nelson demand more than just a sway, nod and passive Tweet as their simple drums-and-guitar combination grab hold of your shoulders and shake new life into you. Proving that numbers don’t matter provided there’s talent, PS I Love You eclipses all references to romantic comedies, leaving anyone unprepared breathless and stunned. So much for Canadian passivity.

Little Scream (For the album ‘The Golden Record’)

Minimalism prevails as the charm of Little Scream’s (Laurel Sprengelmeyer) gentle vocals prove that folky dream-pop need not be confined to sitting cross-legged on the ground while waxing poetic about sunshine and rainbows. Soft, subtle and approachably beautiful, the Montreal songstress far outshines the classification she’s aligned with, breathing new life into an over-saturated industry by warming the hearts of even the coldest listeners. Just ask the Arcade Fire.

Dirty Beaches (For the album ‘Badlands’)

Obliterating Vancouver’s reputation as a hotbed of amped-up hockey aggression is minimalistic musician Alex Zhang Hungtai, who proves that when executed properly, less will always be more. Using more than just the tired verse-bridge-chorus template, the Taiwan-born artist pays tribute to his influences without impersonating, setting the bar for the experimental sort who’ve deemed it enough to open a Macbook and call it art.

Diamond Rings (For the album ‘Special Affections’)

You’ve likely heard the Bowie comparisons, the “gender-bending” descriptions and the accolades following his tour stint with Robyn, but it’s his penchant for showmanship and unstoppable energy that keeps the Toronto-based Diamond Rings out of the “hype only” category. Dynamic and captivating, expressive and engaging, we can only hope that the success of John O is further proof that Canadians just don’t play it safe.

The Polaris Music Prize winner will be announced on September 19. Tell us what you think of the nominations by leaving a comment below.


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