The 2016 Polaris Music Prize short list is finally here. The top 10 artists vying for the title of the best Canadian album of the year are Andy Shauf, Basia Bulat, Black Mountain, Carly Rae Jepsen, Grimes, Jessy Lanza, Kaytranada, Pup, U.S. Girls and White Lung. You can read more about the nominated artists and hear a selection from their work below.
There are two important notes to make of this year’s short list of talented acts. First, this year marks the highest number of female/female-fronted acts ever to have made the short list, with seven (with Black Mountain’s Amber Webber sharing vocal duties in the band with Stephen McBean). This is one more than the 2012 shortlist.
This is also the second year in Polaris history that the short list has not included any R&B or rap artists (although Kaytranada's 99.9% does include some features from both rap and R&B artists). While this year’s long list boasted some of the country’s biggest names in the genre, including Drake, Daniel Caesar, Majid Jordan, Jazz Cartier and the Weeknd, none of them was able to crack the top 10. The last time this happened was in 2007, which featured a rock and electronic-heavy short list that included Feist, Arcade Fire, Joel Plaskett, winner Patrick Watson and more.
And finally: six of the artists on the short list are newcomers (Andy Shauf, Carly Rae Jepsen, Kaytranada, Pup, U.S. Girls, White Lung) while four are returning short list nominees (Basia Bulat, Black Mountain, Grimes and Jessy Lanza).
The Polaris Music Prize gala will take place on Sept. 19 in Toronto and will be hosted by Tom Power, host of CBC Radio 2 Morning, and Amanda Parris, host of CBC Radio 2’s Marvin’s Room and Exhibitionists on CBC TV. The entire event will be live streamed at CBCMusic.ca/polarisprize. Prior to the gala, CBC Music will broadcast an hour-long special on the Polaris Music Prize on Sunday, Sept. 18, at 5 p.m. ET on CBC TV.
Tune in later today at 6 p.m. ET/6:30 NT for a special one-hour Polaris Music Prize short list special on CBC Radio 2 Drive, hosted by Rich Terfry. Terfry, a Polaris long list nominee himself for his 2008 Buck 65 album Situation, will take listeners through all 10 nominees this year.
The list was decided by a jury of 194 journalists, broadcasters and music bloggers across Canada. A smaller group of 11 grand jurors will be selected to convene on the night of the Polaris gala to vote for the winner. The winner will take home a $50,000 grand prize and the other nine nominees will each receive $3,000.
Meet the nominees below.
Name: Andy Shauf
Album: The Party
Hometown: Regina, Sask.
Release date: May 19
Polaris history: This is Andy Shauf’s first appearance at the Polaris Music Prize.
About the album: The Party isn't a concept album, but rather a set of vignettes that loosely relate to one another: all the characters are attending the same party, but that's about it. There’s the woman who is (awkwardly) the first to show up (“Early to the Party”), a guy who thinks his girlfriend is cheating on him (“The Worst in You”) and someone who dies while having a smoke outside (“Alexander All Alone”). While his characters may be in a disorganized heap of broken hearts on the party floor, the composition on The Party is meticulously orchestrated. The Party is a folk record so lush it feels as though Shauf made a feature film, providing settings, characters and colour to fill out a full motion picture with just 10 songs. — Holly Gordon
Name: Basia Bulat
Album: Good Advice
Hometown: London, Ont.
Release date: Feb. 12
Polaris history: This is Bulat’s third time on the short list. She was also there in 2008 for Oh, My Darling and in 2014 for Tall Tall Shadow.
About the album: Good Advice is a bold departure for the folk singer-songwriter, and there’s something incredibly gratifying, musically, about the way Bulat embraces this new-for-her pop sound. Every song has elements of wild abandon, as if she’s shaking something free, and pushing herself at every turn. Lyrically, Bulat is still exploring darkness, and still wrestling with some kind of heartbreak and grief — the very things that made her last album, Tall Tall Shadow, so compelling and resonant — but she’s reframing these themes through pop. Good Advice is the sound of Bulat at her most daring while still being true to herself. — Andrea Warner
Name: Black Mountain
Release date: April 1
Polaris history: Three-time longlisters, it's their second time making the Polaris short list. (First was with their 2008 album, In the Future.)
About the album: Black Mountain describe themselves as a “group of musicians who are at the peak of their powers.” I wouldn't dare argue with that statement. It’s almost unfair to describe them as having a musical skill set — it’s far more appropriate to say they have powers that can put you in a euphoric trance-like state with just a few simple notes. This album is a journey, a quest, and a display of each musician’s special powers. What are Black Mountain searching for on this quest? We may never know, but you’ll be glad to go along with them through the ebbs and flows of this epic album. IV is the group’s fourth studio album, and the second you hear Stephen McBean’s guitar scream out the first riff on "Mothers of the Sun," you know you’ve arrived in the right place. — Kerry Martin
Name: Carly Rae Jepsen
Hometown: Mission, B.C.
Release date: Aug. 21
Polaris history: This is Carly Rae Jepsen’s first time being longlisted and shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize. In the decade that Polaris has existed, Jepsen has put out two other albums, 2008’s Tug of War and 2012’s Kiss.
About the album: Possibly one of the most straightforward pop albums ever to have been nominated for the Polaris Music Prize, Carly Rae Jepsen’s mainstream success has always had a strong backbone of critical support. While Emotion’s sales amounted to what most would deem a flop, Jepsen was lauded in reviews, earning her best-of spots on lists by Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Stereogum and CBC Music. The album is a cohesive slice of ‘80s synth-pop throwback, a slick and glossy jumping off point for Jepsen’s astute observations of love and its many facets, spanning from temptation to heartbreak. — ML
Album: Art Angels
Hometown: Vancouver, B.C.
Release date: Nov. 6
Polaris history: Grimes has put out four full-length albums since 2010 and Art Angels marks her second Polaris short list nomination. 2012’s breakout album Visions nabbed Grimes her first short list nomination but lost to Feist’s Metals. That year, she performed at the Polaris gala event alongside a male pole dancer named Gary.
About the album: After scrapping an entire release, Grimes returned last year with Art Angels. The album, which was written, produced and engineered all by Claire Boucher, is a pure pop style that uniquely belongs to Grimes. Combining her love of infectious hooks, wild alter-egos, hyperspace flare, and both punk and electronic flourishes, Art Angels can hop from the light, country-tinged “California” to the thrashing wallop of “Scream” and eventually land in the thumping heart of a “Venus Fly,” without missing a beat. — ML
Name: Jessy Lanza
Album: Oh No
Hometown: Hamilton, Ont.
Release date: May 13
Polaris history: In 2014, Jessy Lanza’s debut album Pull My Hair Back was shortlisted alongside other nominees such as Drake, Owen Pallett, Mac DeMarco, Arcade Fire and that year’s winner, Tanya Tagaq.
About the album: Building off the electronic/R&B foundations of her debut album, Pull My Hair Back, Jessy Lanza’s sophomore release Oh No steps things up a notch by crafting even stronger pop melodies and delivering it with a confidence that allows Lanza not to hold back as she shouts refrains like, “I say it to your face but it doesn’t mean a thing, no!” on “VV Violence.” When she’s not shouting over double-time beats, as in the rhythmic beast of “It Means I Love You,” Lanza’s voice finds a comfortable home in the grooves of slower, minimal numbers like “Begins” and “I Talk BB.” Oh No is a subtle expansion in Lanza’s sound, but one that reveals some real gems. — ML
Release date: May 6
Polaris history: This is Kaytranada’s first appearance at the Polaris Music Prize.
About the album: This is Kaytranada’s official debut album, but the musician has already garnered a reputation as an in-demand DJ, remix artist and producer over the years. The 23-year-old has already released a staggering 13 projects and more than 40 remixes since he started in 2010. But mass acclaim, especially in Canada, has always eluded him, a fact he plays with on “Despite the Weather,” which ends with a clip of influential radio DJ Sway not realizing he’s actually played Kaytranada on air before. With 99.9%, that should change. A mix of hip-hop, soul and vintage house music, Kaytranada’s virtuosity is on full display on 99.9%. Even an impressive array of carefully curated guest appearances — Craig David, Vic Mensa, Anderson .Paak, BADBADNOTGOOD, Shay Lia, to name a few — can't overshadow his rising star. — Jesse Kinos-Goodin
Album: The Dream is Over
Release date: May 27
Polaris history: In 2014, Pup’s debut self-titled album was longlisted for the Polaris Prize but failed to shortlist. The Dream is Over is the band’s first time making the top 10.
About the album: While Pup garnered some buzz in 2014, the band didn’t fully take off 'til they released this year’s The Dream is Over. Building off the traditional punk foundations of their last record, The Dream is Over finds its drive and catharsis in the band’s darkest moments over the past few years on tour, achieving retrospective clarity in lines like the album’s opener, “If this tour doesn’t kill you, I will.” It’s frank, it’s crushing (both lyrically at times, and sonically throughout) and instead of sounding like defeat, Pup sounds more charged-up than ever. — ML
Name: U.S. Girls
Album: Half Free
Release date: Sept. 25
Polaris history: This is U.S. Girls' first appearance at the Polaris Prize.
About the album: As U.S. Girls, Meg Remy brings the inner lives of women into startlingly vivid detail on her newest album, Half Free, an electro-avant-pop record as innovative and transformative as that of any of her peers (Grimes, St. Vincent, Peaches). It's futuristic and lush, angular and dreamy, provocative and thoughtful while exploring themes about youth, feminism, aging, anxiety and gender inequality, with narratives inspired by everything from Katy Perry to the fictional Nora Bass in Michael Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter. This is music that rewards artful analysis and deeper, repeated listens, yet also works perfectly as polished party starter. — AW
Name: White Lung
Hometown: Vancouver, B.C.
Release date: May 6, 2016
Polaris history: White Lung has made the long list cut twice, but this is the band’s first time making the short list. Last year, their third studio album, Deep Fantasy, made the top 40. The band has released two other full-length albums, 2010’s It’s the Evil and 2012’s Sorry, but those failed to crack the long list.
About the album: When White Lung’s fourth album Paradise came out in May, there were many comments made about its “pop sensibilities” and “softened edges,” but don’t let those descriptors fool you: Paradise still pummels with plenty of fury. Guitarist Kenneth William’s riffs are as sharp and lethal as ever, as evidenced in the opening moments of the album on “Dead Weight.” While this is their longest record to date, 28 minutes is still a short blast compared to most other releases. What has changed is frontwoman Mish Barber-Way’s singing, which has taken a more melodic route than usual but without sacrificing any of the bite as she sings from the perspective of real-life serial killers on “Sister” and “Demented.” — ML