Since 2006 the Polaris Music Prize has been awarded to the best Canadian full-length album. In addition to the title of best Canadian release of that year, the winner receives a $20,000 cash prize. Previous winners include, Final Fantasy’s He Poos Clouds (2006), Patrick Watson’s Close to Paradise (2007), and Caribou’s Andorra (2008).
After the initial list of 40 albums is picked, the jury, made up of Canadian journalist and bloggers, narrow down the selection to a short list of ten albums.
As a two-part preview to the award gala on September 21, the Concordian will review the short list.
A kitchen as a drum kit
Patrick Watson, a Montreal music fixture of sorts, is no stranger to the strange. Specializing in a minimalist approach and the odd improvised instrument – listen for the bike on “Beijing,” – Watson provides much of the same on his group’s third release, Wooden Arms.
Watson’s signature coarse whisper still dominates but is backed by a broader selection of instruments. Percussion gets a particular boost as Watson adopts a tinny, pot and pan type sound. The jarring playfulness of the varied unorthodox beats compliments Watson’s fantastical orchestral arrangements. Look no further then “Where The Wild Things Are,” to see the effect in full swing.
Wooden Arms develops a certain whimsical atmosphere. On the title track, a guitar is rhythmically plucked as the notes of a piano rises and falls. Scattered throughout are the seemingly random plangs of pots. This is the world of Patrick Watson.
Could Watson be the first repeat winner? It’s unlikely, but stranger things have happened.
Trial Track: “Beijing”
(Secret City Records; 2008)
If Dawkins were a punk rocker
The Chemistry of Common Life kicks off with a fluttering flute solo. No doubt a first for a hardcore punk album. As the flute crescendos the fury of Fucked Up comes down in a hailstorm. Pink Eyes’ vocals, which can be achieved at home by simply drinking moonshine by the quart in between eating handfuls of gravel, hang above the band’s noise.
The subject of Pink Eyes’ growls is the age-old punching bag of punk, religion. However, Fucked Up possesses a certain lyrical knack. Each string of words is carefully chosen and never gets caught up in petty pot shots that many punk bands so often use. “Days of Last,” takes on a particularly critical tone as Pink Eyes declares, “we were only held back by faith-based malaise/ the hubris of the fallacy that only God can judge me.”
The Chemistry of Common Life has surprising musical depth. A trio of guitarists lay down a frantic pace to match the vocals and two slower paced instrumentals prove that Fucked Up are more then capable of playing their instruments.
A great album for lovers of punk and well worth the listen for the less than punk inclined.
Trial Track: “Days of Last”
The Chemistry of Common Life
(Matador Records; 2008)
A dreamy stream of folk
Lost Channels, the fourth release by Tony Dekker and company, continues the streak of eccentric recording locals. Ongiara, the band’s 2007 release, was recorded in the historic music venue and heritage site Aeolian Hall. Lost Channels is the product of recording sessions in and around the Thousand Islands, including Singer Castle (a turn of the century replica of a medieval Scottish castle, complete with a dungeon).
The album is hauntingly beautiful. Dekker’s smooth vocals and simple but touching lyrics blend into mellow folk arrangements. The eleventh track, “River’s Edge,” stands out as a perfect example of the marriage between band and Dekker’s singer-songwriter abilities.
The cast of instruments is fairly standard: acoustic guitars, pianos, mandolins, violins and cellos all make an appearance at one time or another.
It is easy to slip into the slow moving sections, particularly in the second half of Lost Channels. Dekker’s imagery accompanied by the soft pace of the band is enthralling. The album floats by and when it reaches the conclusion, will only leave you wanting to revisit the dreamy landscape of the Great Lake Swimmers.
Trial Track: “Everything Is Moving So Slow”
Great Lake Swimmers
Alive and well
After four years of solo efforts, guest appearances, and rubbing elbows with fellow Broken Social Scene-sters, Metric has returned. The result is Fantasies, a pop centric album that favours hooks and earworm choruses.
The first single, “Help, I’m Alive,” serves as an introduction to the new Metric. The track begins with a heavy beat that builds until Emily Haines coos a verse or two and then breaks through with a sing along chorus.
At times, the Metric of old shines through. “Gold Guns Girls,” could have been mixed into the tracks of Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? or Live It Out. However, the majority of Fantasies sticks to the “Help, I’m Alive,” structure.
The formula does work. It is a struggle not to get caught up in some of the catchier tracks like “Gimme Sympathy,” or “Stadium Love.”
Some fans may be left fantasizing about the raw energetic Metric of old, but the new Metric is here to stay and you’ll be humming along. It’s just a matter of time.
Trial Track: “Help, I’m Alive”
(Metric Music International; 2009)