My Polaris Ballot 2011, Round Two   Leave a comment

 I had a hard time determining my final ballot for this year’s Polaris Music Prize. As I assume do the other jurors, I take my responsibility as a Polaris juror seriously and hate to think that any ballot is just five names entered at random or on a whim.

After the ‘long list’ was revealed last week- and I found that only one of my ‘top 5’ albums made the list of 40- I had a lot of listening to undertake. Of course, this is also one of my busiest times of the year as a school teacher and administrator, so it was a challenge to find time to concentrate on listening to albums I had previously either passed over as a result of my roots-centric focus or only listened to casually.

The full Polaris 2011 Long List is posted here and while one would think that such a list is pretty comprehensive and would be generally accepted as [- why can’t I come up with the word I want? Generally accepted as appropriate, a commonly agreed upon set or selection….what is the word I need??? Carrying on] that some type of consensus has been reached (as it is drawn from some 200+ ballots), the discussions within the Polaris Juror list these past several days revealed the widespread and individual nature of its members- we are far from one mind about what is Canada’s best album of the year.

I spent this past week listening to albums on the long list, ones that I hadn’t heard (or really listened to) the first time around: Austra, Rural Alberta Advantage, D-Sisive, Land of Talk, The Weeknd, Women, The Luyas, Little Scream, Buck 65, Ron Sexsmith, Tim Hecker, Dirty Beaches, Hooded Fang, Stars and many more. I couldn’t believe how uninspiring and plain boring and redundant some of those albums sounded to these old ears. Obviously, I am missing something lots of my Polaris colleagues aren’t. Still, Tim Hecker, Land of Talk, Ron Sexsmith, and Austra impressed enough that they received considerable additional listening before I finalized my ballot. But stuff like D-Sisive…I just don’t get. When cussing serves as the strongest argument an artist can make within an artistic statement, one needs to go back to the junior high playground.

Unless I discovered something totally surprising this week, moving from # 5 on my first ballot to #1 on my short list ballot was going to be Luke Doucet & the White Falcom’s Steel City Trawler, and that is how things turned out. I’m no longer sure I know what rock is, but I’m fairly certain this eleven track slice of brilliance qualifies.

“Thinking People” reminds me a little of Ray Davies and The Kinks and “The Ballad of Ian Curtis” captures the steely warmth of Joy Division’s sound in a way I wouldn’t have expected. “Sundown” is just a great song (DUH!) and even reinvented as a power chord-rich slice of pop it works. “Love and a Gentle Hand” is the best Cheap Trick song I’ve heard in a decade. “Hey Now” makes me think a little more everytime I hear it- I’m not always sure where it is going to take me, but it takes me places- the past, missed opportunities of last month, confrontations avoided and the wrong ones chosen. It is a gentle song that speaks volumes. “Magpies”, too- “All I see are the stepping stones. I don’t see the body for the bones.” Not sure what it means to everyone else, but I know what the phrase means to me.

So, that is my #1 album (now that the others I voted for have fallen to the wayside) and my recommendation to all readers of Fervor Coulee- give Luke Doucet’s Steel City Trawler a listen.

After that, I had lots of tough choices- had to dig deep and came up with six albums fighting
for four spots. There were lots of good albums on the Long List to select from…and even more that were near unlistenable as far as I’m concerned…but a few finally rose above others. I actually lost a couple minutes of sleep while considering ballot slot #5- Austra vs One Hundred Dollars and went into last night (the ballot deadline) still not final on that decision. As it turns out, by the time I hit Submit on my final ballot, things had changed considerably.

Timber Timbre’s Creep On Creepin On had been solidly on my ballot all of last week, but kept slipping down and eventually fell off as I spent more time with other albums. And I really enjoyed that one, even bought the album with my own hard earned money.

At number 2 I dropped in Shotgun Jimmie’s Transistor Sister; it is an album I shouldn’t love as there is nothing rootsy about it at all- it is all over the place, but all the places make stellar listening. Every year through Polaris deliberations I discover an artist (or two) and their albums that I have not only never heard of before but whom I would never have found independent of my Polaris commitment. Transistor Sister is one of those recordings. I’m not sure if it is about anything, but the words and sounds just flow with such energy that I can’t stop listening to it.

One Hundred Dollars’ Songs of Man is the rootsiest album on the Long List and one that I briefly considered for my original ballot; I was certainly pleased to see it appear on the Long List and it was an easy fit for #3 on my final ballot. The more I listened this week, the more impressed I became. Simone Schmidt has a beautiful voice, the kind of voice you are pleased to find on an album in your uncle’s basement- you’ve never heard it before, no one has ever mentioned her to you, but from the first time you hear the sound you know you’ve been invited into select group of admirers. I loved Forest of Tears a couple years back and this one is even better. The album holds up to listening and is very impressive in all ways- the production- which reminds me a little of Louise Burns’ Mellow Drama (see below)- has that open, hollow sound that I find so appealing.

Austra’s Feel It Break was my #4 album. Comparisons have been made to Kate Bush and I definitely hear the connection, but there is an aural straightforwardness around this release that makes it even more striking. The music is complex and multi-layered- a bit art school- but it doesn’t feel or sound contrived. It takes me back to the 80s without the embarrassment of the hair and pant styles. The album has a consistent overall sound, but every song is just different enough to tie things together into a listen that keeps the listener alert for the next fabulous interlude.

Louise Burns is a Vancouver-based artist that I know little about, but I’ve fallen for her album Mellow Drama. Had I spent even more time with it, it may have moved up on my ballot from #5. It has a rich sound, full and vibrant, but the emotion isn’t lost. She (and it) reminds me a little of the music of the Cocteau Twins and Tarnation- simultaneously very spacy and earthy. She’s coming to Olds July 2 to Track’s Pub. Hmm…I wonder if I can convince my wife to go for a drive…

That is likely my final input into the Polaris Music Prize 2011 because I don’t expect to ever be invited to participate in the final jury process that determines the winner. But I imagine I’ll share my thoughts on the final ten nominees when they are announced in ten days.

Thanks for reading Fervor Coulee. I hope you are finding material and music of interest. Donald


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