Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sidetracked: The Polaris Prize Long List, 2010.

My picks for this year's Polaris prize. This has nothing to do with my regular blog posts--nor with my predictions for who the winner will be, since I really have no idea; it just reflects what I liked out of the music they chose this year. Since last year's crop was quite bountiful (I discovered some artists I really enjoyed), I thought I would plunder the spoils again--with overwhelming results. For most of these artists I only listened to one or two tracks to get a 'taste', but I've described below what I heard and why I liked it. I've listed the artists only--specific albums nominated can be found here. I also linked through to their MySpace pages, where you can listen to free music, and to LastFM where you can find more info on the artists and their discographies.

Bahamas: I am just a sucker for folky guitar. Reminds me of Andrew Bird but less produced and softer/more mellow, with a slight bluegrass twang. I found myself nodding along and allowing several tracks to play out. (@LastFM)

Basia Bulat: Classified as "folk/melodramatic", she reminds me of one of the singers in The Be Good Tanyas but with more vibrato, a very unique voice worth listening to--could be as unique as Neko Case and Joanna Newsom, she certainly draws appropriately on some country/bluegrass influences that remind me of those two artists. Nice fiddle, stand-up bass and acoustic guitar, and banjo. (@LastFM)

Brasstronaut: "Mt. Chimaera" is the album. I'm not sure how this can be classified, other than under "Awesome Album Titles". It's relatively mellow, with some acoustic instrumentation, but not actually laid-back--a weird combination of 60s psychedelia and New Weird America (think Devendra Banhart, but maybe more intense); vocals reminiscent of The Byrds, instrumentation that echoes Ida--without being emo. Could be classified as "indie rock" but with many more 'layers' that usual in that genre. (@LastFM)

Broken Social Scene: I usually like their stuff, so I'm happy to give the new album a listen. Sounds fairly good so far. (@LastFM)

By Divine Right: The first tracks I heard show obvious influences from 1960s folk and psychedelic rock (the electric guitar, vocals, strings, and bass patterns), reminds me of the Byrds, echoes of The Pretty Things' one psychedelic album ("SF Sorrow") and Cream--and of course later Beatles albums. I'm also reminded of Beck, who shows some of those influences as well in most of his albums. (@LastFM)

Caribou: Caribou is always good, I have all his albums (back from when he was called "Manitoba", even). This is perky yet gentle electronica, a more melodic, compact variant on genres like glitch and ambient. Reminds me of Four Tet and Plaid, but more often with vocals. (@LastFM)

Crystal Castles: Self-classified on MySpace as "Thrash", these guys have been touted locally as a popular "electro" group (not usually a good sign--in Toronto) so I felt it was my obligation to listen to a few tracks, in spite of receiving a poor first impression some time ago. It sounds like a mash-up of Goth, Epic House, some early 80s electro, disco-a-la-Scissor Sisters/Donna Summer, and the occasional crap track that really does sound "Thrash"-esque. I'm willing to give them another chance--in spite of the fact that they only provide 30-second soundbytes on their MySpace profile (snots). (@LastFM)

Amelia Curran: One of those female singer-songwriters who plays the guitar--and I am a sucker for that, so you've been warned. There's also accordion, and a song about Montreal, again with echoes of folk, bluegrass and 'traditional' music from the southern U.S. (@LastFM)

Fred Fortin: For some reason, there's a lot of folk in here this year. A guy, a guitar, and songs in French--I liked it. Then again, my French isn't good enough to tell me whether the lyrics are any good, so take that with a chunk of salt. (@LastFM)

Hannah Georgas: Sounds like Emily Haines, with less electro: a bit indie-twee ("Her voice, bittersweet yet as spunky as an indie film heroine, will make you swoon as she sings about love, language and awkward situations"--um yeah). Still, I'm trying not to let all that get in the way of listening to the album, since it sounds like it might be pretty good. Another artist on this year's list also had a Haines-type voice (though much more cutesy--too much for me), it must be a trend. (@LastFM)

Dan Mangan: Reminds me of The Weakerthans, but more folky. The are echoes of Ida in some of the instrumentation. Yes, so it's yet another folk-esque entry, but it's apparently been that kind of a year; more reminders Andrew Bird and Devendra Banhart, with a bit of Wilco (the lyrics are not syrupy-sweet, that's for sure). Bonus: has a song called "The Indie Queens Are Waiting". (@LastFM)

Misteur Valaire: It's great to see an album here that doesn't fit into one of three or four categories (e.g. "Indie Rock", "Punk", "Folk") and... the first track to which I listened contained theramin samples. As for the rest of it, I'm not quite sure how to describe it, though I was somehow reminded of Xploding Plastix--and then there was something that sounded like video games, the theme to an 80s action TV show, and funky 70s electro-disco. And that was all within one track, I'm telling you. It must be a win. (@LastFM)

The New Pornographers: I've always felt myself to be somewhat on the fence about these guys, always found them harder to like than Broken Social Scene, for example; but I think they're starting to win me over. (@LastFM)

Radio Radio: Funk, disco (e.g. Bee Gees), hip-hop, all en Francais code-switched with English. Definitely invites a closer listen, as it were. Reminds me a bit of TTC--almost inevitably.

Justin Rutledge: Oddly low-key, new/indie-country style, and believe me it is bizarre to find myself liking country music. I could get into this though--in spite of the fact that his MySpace photo was a picture of him with Dolly Parton. I'm not sure of what it's reminiscent since I don't know the genre very well at all. (@LastFM)

The Slew: The classification provided on this MySpace page is "Rock/Psychedelic/Blues" and their location is listed as Seattle, I'm assuming they are somehow actually Canadian since they have received a Polaris nomination. I find classification difficult here--it's certainly not "just" rock/blues, there seems to be some creative sampling and scratching going on. When I saw that Kid Koala was a member of this apparent collective/group (along with three others I've never heard of), I realised where that sound might be coming from. So there is a heavy mashing of rock and glitch, which could be strangely effective. (@LastFM)

South Rakkas Crew: It's hard to resist a group who'll name their album "The Stimulus Package". Though I don't normally listen to dancehall-influenced stuff, this has heavy layers of production, many influences playing together at once (as you may have noticed, I always find that interesting) including reggae, ska, some forms of electronica (probably drum'n'bass/jungle among others--I hear some of that in the bass). I'd have to be in the right mood to listen to this, but I think there's room for it in my (admittedly over-burdened and eclectic) collection. (@LastFM)

You Say Party! We Say Die!: I already have one album ("Lose All Time") by these guys and I have always felt surprised that I liked it. In terms of the new stuff, though I try not to be too influenced by track names, "Laura Palmer's Prom"--which came complete with Badalamenti-esque synth strings--was temptingly referential. It's squarely in the indie-rock genre, evolving positively in the direction of the kind of dark synth-tinged stuff that The Knife do so well (see the song "Dark Days" in particular), with hints of Controller.Controller. (@LastFM)

Young Galaxy: Last FM description includes the terms "indie/dream pop" and "shoegaze", and mentions Galaxie 500 and Stars as similar-sounding groups. I think all that is fair enough, and of course there's something a bit more original coming through as well; the languidness of Galaxie 500 is brought to a more upbeat and melodic yet similarly intense sound here, and Stars would sound a lot lighter in comparison. In some ways I'm even reminded of again The Knife (certainly not a bad thing!), partly because of the female vocal and also some of the beats and instrumentation. I'm definitely going to be listening to the whole album. (@LastFM)

The Polaris Prize short list was announced on July 6th; artists from this lists who made it to the "final round" are Broken Social Scene, Radio Radio, Caribou, and Dan Mangan. See, I told you I have no ability to "pick a winner" on this list (last year I swore up and down that it had to be K'naan, and I still swear that it should have been. I hate punk, and the prize went to a punk band).

1 comment:

  1. Massive like! If there can be a "massive" like..ehem. Totally checking out a bunch of these.

    Tis Areej btw. Gin is my alter-ego *shifty eyes* .