Polaris Music Prize 2013: The Award Profiled

Godspeed wins the top gong in Canada…
Godspeed You! Black Emperor

September 23rd saw the eighth annual Polaris Music Prize awarded to Godspeed You! Black Emperor (pictured), for their album ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!’ You can read our news on that, here

Clash scribe Will Fitzpatrick was in Toronto for the gala event and, just prior to the winner being announced, sent us over a handy guide to all of the acts and albums up for this prestigious award.

Will called it right, too. He says, from Canada: “Amazingly, nobody agreed with me when I predicted Godspeed would win – I think a lot of people were rooting for A Tribe Called Red. But, GY!BE won, and didn’t show up, so the sparsely attended press conference was a little awkward.”

Here are Will’s words on the 2013 Polaris nominees…

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September 23rd saw the announcement of the winner of the eighth Polaris Music Prize at a gala ceremony in Toronto. The annual award, modelled on the UK’s Mercury Prize (but without an entrance fee), is designed to celebrate Canadian music by recognizing the country’s best full-length album, with a jury list of over 200 journalists and bloggers.

In previous years, the $30,000 prize has gone to recognizable indie-rock acts such as Arcade Fire in 2011, whose ‘The Suburbs’ collected the gong, and last year’s winner Feist – the first female solo artist to do so, thanks to her ‘Metals’ opus.

Genre is not a prerequisite, however, with decisions made purely on the basis of artistic merit. Other winners have included psychedelic hardcore band Fucked Up, and one-man string section Final Fantasy, who was the victor at the inaugural Polaris event in 2006.

Whittled down from a long-list of 40 albums, the 10-strong shortlist for this year’s nominees included returning post-rockers GY!BE, feedback-drenched punks METZ and R&B singer Zaki Imbrahim, with the former seemingly amongst the favourites. The ceremony, hosted by former shortlisters Shad and Kathleen Edwards, took place in Toronto’s Carlu events centre, with live performances from the likes of Metric and Young Galaxy.

AND THOSE NOMINEES…

 

GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR
Arguably the most well known act on the shortlist, Godspeed returned in 2012 from a 10-year recording hiatus, with new album ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!’. This highly immersive comeback revolved around their trademark sense of doom-laden drama, bathed in cinematic strings, looped electronic washes and truly sinister guitar attacks. Brilliant stuff.

 

ZAKI IBRAHIM
This Canadian-born resident of Cape Town honed her performing skills in Toronto’s live venues, gradually amassing the tools the tools to back her evident talent and formidably versatile vocals. Debut ‘Every Opposite’ effortlessly blends jazz and R&B melodies to subtly hypnotic electronica; surprising and delighting with its unlikely flavour combinations.

 

METRIC
Long-term favourites of the Candian indie scene, Metric’s fifth album, ‘Synthetica’ was predicated on theories of “what is real versus what is artificial”. The result is in a thrillingly philosophical new wave record, also featuring the gnarled croon of legendary curmudgeon Lou Reed as the yin to their glistening pop yang.

 

METZ
In resurrecting the furious riffology of noisy favourites like The Jesus Lizard or Shellac, Toronto power trio METZ provide a welcome reminder of their label Sub Pop’s grunge roots. Not only that, they’re also a thunderously impressive rock band, as ably captured on their self-titled first album – properly powerful punk.

 

PURITY RING 
An electronic duo from Edmonton, Purity Ring are remarkable chiefly for the wistfully soaring vocal of Megan James. Stunningly anchored by Corin Roddick’s clipped R&B rhythms, the band’s first LP ‘Shrines’ is rich in texture and seductively beautiful poetry; revelling in its own bruised complexity to create an addictively sophisticated treasure.

 

COLIN STETSON
Almost certainly the wild card. Largely known for his work with Arcade Fire and Bon Iver, this Montreal-based saxophonist combines brain-busting passages of portentous skronk with bursts of atmospheric reflection. The Poalris-nominated ‘To See More Light’ is the third and final volume of Stetson’s ‘New History Warfare’ trilogy. It’s also completely brilliant.

 

TEGAN AND SARA
The most famous twin sisters in indie rock? Arguably. What’s more certain: that ‘Heartthrob’ is their most stridently catchy offering thus far. Ke$ha producer Greg Kurstin boosted their immaculate harmonies with dynamic dancefloor-friendly thuds and explosions of glittering colour, marking a gleeful sidestep away from their more guitar-centric beginnings.

 

A TRIBE CALLED RED
As vividly illustrated by latest album ‘Nation II Nation’, A Tribe Called Red’s self-described “powwow-step” rhythms draw from First Nations music, hip-hop and dance music. In tandem with their vocal support for Aboriginal protest movement Idle No More, it’s clear they’re firmly at the vanguard of Canada’s urban club culture.

 

WHITEHORSE
Luke Ducet and Melissa McClelland first met as solo artists before marrying in 2006, eventually working together as Whitehorse. ‘The Fate of The World Depends On This Kiss’ is their second album, perfectly showcasing the happy union between McClelland’s lush, full-throated holler and Ducet’s open-plain senses of imagination and possibility.

 

YOUNG GALAXY
This Vancouver quintet’s approach to windswept electro-dreampop is as sweet as it gets. There are hints of Beach House-sized wistfulness during their brighter moments, but ‘Ultramarine’ also sees them playing around with tropical rhythms and a glamorous swagger that suits them down to the ground – one for the pop sophisticates.

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How do you think the Polaris Music Prize compares to the UK’s Mercury? Is it important that, in the Canadian prize, there’s no entrance fee? The Polaris also publishes its jury – viewable here – while the Mercury keeps its judging panel rather more secretive. Surely the British and Irish prize should be following these leads? Tweet us your thoughts, or comment below.

Read a piece on what the Merury Prize means (or doesn't) in 2013 here.

Words: Will Fitzpatrick

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Stream tracks by Godspeed You! Black Emperor via Deezer, below...

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