Part two of The Concordian’s spotlight on the Polaris Music Prize: the final six reviews of the 10 albums on the short list.
Established in 2006, the Polaris Prize is given to what is determined to be the best Canadian full length release of the year regardless of commercial success. Final Fantasy won in 2006 with He Poos Clouds, 2007 belonged to Patrick Watson’s Close to Paradise, and last year Caribou won with Andorra.
The winner of the 2009 Polaris Prize will be announced at an awards gala on Sept. 21.
(Dare to Care Records; 2009)
Labyrinthes is only one of a handful of francophone albums to get a nod from this year’s Polaris jury. Even more impressive is the fact that this is the second nomination in a row for the Montreal indie rock outfit.
Listening to the album can seem like a daunting task for those who do not speak la belle langue, all the lyrics are sung in French. Those that are fluent are in store for deep lyrics examining spirituality, life, and death.
The unusually long seven minute opening track, “Ursuline,” sets the dark, brooding tone. A piano solo slowly plinks towards the opening verse, which is soon joined by crashing symbols and a catchy synth line.
The murky mood continues on into the next track “Porte Disparu.” The piano instantly stands out and gives the song a carnivalesque tone. The chorus is particularly beautiful as it breaks through in a dreamy wash of sound.
Even with the language barrier holding some listeners back, Labyrinthes proves to be a homegrown gem.
Trial Track: “Porte Disparu”
Chad VanGaalen’s third full-length is a collection of entirely distinct songs that jump out and slap you in the face just as your mind is scrambling to catalogue the album into some semblance of a genre.
Is it experimental folk-rock or lo-fi electro-pop? The unpredictability of musical and vocal style from track to track is unsurpassed. Who would have expected the sultry huskiness of “Bones of Man,” after the endearing falsetto of “Willow Tree?”
The electro-poppiness of “Phantom Anthills,” and “TMNT Mask,” seems out of place on a record that opens with the folksy banjo of “Willow Tree,” and the gritty guitar of “Bare Feet on Wet Griptape.”
VanGallen’s Soft Airplane offers a mix of Elliott Smith, Shugo Tokumaru, Cass McCombs, and even Neil Young. Although the melodies are at times generic and uneventful, the record is a creative compilation of amusing arrangements and alluring lyrics.
Trial Track: “Willow Tree”
Three, Joel Plaskett’s third solo release, is a concept album revolving around an obsession with the number three. The material for the three-disc album was recorded while Plaskett was 33, each disk features nine songs, and almost every other song title is a single word repeated three times. Plaskett even boasts three fingers on the albums cover.
Often when an artist releases a double, or in this case a triple album, mediocre songs slip into and overwhelm the better songs. Three is no different. Plaskett could have easily cut the album into one cohesive enjoyable album. Instead, Plaskett offers 27 tracks, not all deserving to be released, loosely connected by a broad theme.
Nonetheless, there are a few stand out tracks scattered among the mishmash of Three. “Sailors Eyes,” a Celtic inspired folk song, features a heartbreaking violin that compliments Plaskett’s vocals.
Three is a bold concept that ultimately fails because it breaks the old adage, “less is more.”
Trial Track: “Through and Through and Through”