By Troy Hasselman, July 23 2019 —
On July 16 the shortlist for the Polaris Music Prize was unveiled. The prestigious prize that is awarded to a Canadian album based exclusively on artistic merit regardless of record sales has a list of past winners that includes Arcade Fire, Kaytranada, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Feist. The artists named are whittled down from a longer list of 40 that was announced last month.
This year’s short list is perhaps the most musically diverse set of albums in the 14-year history of the prize, while simultaneously being the least diverse in terms of location with nine out of the 10 shortlisted albums hailing from either Quebec or Ontario — British Columbia’s Snotty Nose Rez Kids is the lone exception. Prairie, territory and maritime exclusion aside, this is nonetheless an impressive list that shows the wide array of genres and styles operating within this country.
The albums listed showcase vocal-inflected jazz-funk from Dominique Fils-Aimé, industrial-tinged electronics from Marie Davidson, Haviah Mighty’s dancehall-inflected hip-hop, collage-like dance music from FET.NAT, hard-hitting Indigenous rap from Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Les Louanges’s sunny-Francophone indie-pop, folk-pop from Elisapie to internet age R&B from budding superstar Jessie Reyez, Shad’s concept-driven alternative hip-hop and expansive pop-punk from PUP.
The list is a strong representation of the countless styles and forms that are displayed by Canadian music in 2019. The performers come from wildly different backgrounds and make music that can fall on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of aesthetic and attitude but all achieve a level of brilliance in the particular lane that they have carved out for themselves.
There are some notable omissions that didn’t make the jump from the long list to the short list. Orville Peck’s neo-country masterpiece Pony is a prime candidate for my favourite album of this year from any country and its omission is honestly a travesty. As is leaving out Calgary-bred and Montreal-based Yves Jarvis whose arty take on R&B in The Same but by Different Means absolutely deserves a spot on this list. As mentioned previously, the exclusion of massive swaths of the country — with no artists from 10 of our country’s 13 provinces and territories being added to the list — does discount the creative output of wide swaths of the country that has produced past winners of the award including Saskatchewan’s Buffy Sainte-Marie, Nunavut’s Tanya Tagaq and last year’s winner, New Brunswick-born Jeremy Dutcher.
Gripes about regionalism aside, the albums on this list are still highly accomplished pieces of music that represent some of the best in terms of creativity in this country. I would recommend anyone give these albums a listen, and maybe discover a new favourite piece of music from this year and delve deeper into what is offered by music in this country but also look into your own local music scene and see what is being made by artists in your own backyard — I can promise you’ll find something worthwhile.
The Polaris Music Prize will be awarded in a Gala Ceremony on Sept. 16 in Toronto. On top of the award, $50,000 will also be given to the winning artist.
Polaris Music Prize Short List 2019
Dominique Fils-Aimé, Stay Tuned!
Elisapie, The Ballad of the Runaway Girl
FET.NAT, Le Mal
Haviah Mighty, 13th Floor
Jessie Reyez, Being Human In Public
Les Louanges, La nuit est une panthère
Marie Davidson, Working Class Woman
PUP, Morbid Stuff
Shad, A Short Story About A War
Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Trapline