Celebrating the best of Canadian music from 2017. The Polaris Prize awards the best full-length Canadian album based on artistic merit, regardless of genre, sales, or record label. Hear this year's short-list nominees A Tribe Called Red, Tragically Hip, Leonard Cohen, Feist and more
Tune in to CBC Radio 2's Drive with host Rich Terfry at 6 p.m. for a special hour-long broadcast celebrating the nominees. Find your local CBC Radio 2 frequency at cbcmusic.ca/radio2, and visit cbcmusic.ca/polaris for more coverage.
The 2017 Polaris Music Prize short list is finally here. Scroll down for full details on the 10 artists who'll be up for the grand prize on Sept. 18, 2017.
Visit CBCMusic.ca/polaris any time for complete Polaris Music Prize coverage.
Hometown: Toronto (born in Calgary)
Release date: April 28
Polaris history: Feist’s 2007 album, The Reminder, was shortlisted for the Polaris Prize, but it was ultimately her 2011 release, Metals, that took home the win in 2012 over releases by Drake, Grimes, Japandroids, Handsome Furs and more.
About the album: Leslie Feist’s first album since Metals finds the songwriter stripping down her process to the bare essentials. From a tighter roster of collaborators (primarily working alongside longtime cohorts, Mocky and Renaud Letang) to the simplification of her arrangements and lyrics (her go-to metaphoric approach is noticeably toned-down), Pleasure is Feist slowing things down with the intention of playing the long game as opposed to the accelerated pace of the mainstream pop lane she once grazed with her breakout hit, “1234.” Pleasure is admittedly a much more patient listen, with songs unfolding its layers over multiple spins, but the results are truly rewarding.
— Melody Laul
Related: Feist's 10 best songs
Name: Gord Downie
Album: Secret Path
Hometown: Kingston, Ont.
Release date: Oct. 18, 2016
Polaris history: 2017 marks Downie's first time on the Polaris list, with this short-list nomination plus the Tragically Hip's first long-list nomination, for Man Machine Poem (though the Hip was nominated for a Slaight Family Polaris Heritage Prize last year, in the 1986-95 category, for Fully Completely).
About the album: What determines whether music is good? With classical music, the measurement isn't sales, it's time. If a work of art survives long enough, the reasoning goes, it must be good. So, which of these 10 Polaris nominees are we most likely to be talking about in a century or two? Which of these albums can say they reminded a nation of its own darkest shadows? Which keeps alive a tragic story that might otherwise have disappeared: a 12-year-old boy who died due to nothing more than his own country's hostile approach to his culture and heritage? Which album is a dying man's heroic effort to draw fame not to himself, but to the least fortunate among us? Secret Path is not just a great album. It's something worth talking about for a very long time and, we can only hope, worth acting on long before that.
— Tom Allen
Release date: July 8, 2016
Polaris history: BadBadNotGood appeared on the 2015 Polaris Music Prize short list for Sour Soul, its collaboration album with Ghostface Killah. The group's album III was longlisted in 2014.
About the album: IV represents BBNG’s fourth record, its first with saxophonist Leland Whitty joining the fold established by drummer Alex Sowinski, bassist Chester Hansen and keyboardist Matt Tavares. The newly configurated band has built on its jazz rebel foundation, the musicians honing their songwriting and musicianship to craft sepia-tinged backdrops that are perfect bedfellows for Sam Herring’s gravelly imparted wisdom on “Time Moves Slow.” Aside from the de rigeur explorative instrumentals the band is known for, there are standout appearances by reed maverick Colin Stetson (“Confessions Pt. II”), smoky-voiced Charlotte Day Wilson (“In Your Eyes”) and 2016 Polaris Music Prize winner Kaytranada (“Lavender”). There’s an assured sheen to IV, which is a testament to the group’s in-demand and widely utilized production skills since its release.
— Del Cowie
Name: A Tribe Called Red
Album: We Are the Halluci Nation
Hometown: based in Ottawa
Release date: Sept. 16, 2016
Polaris history: All three of A Tribe Called Red’s albums have been longlisted. This is the group's second album to make the short list, along with 2013’s Nation II Nation.
About the album: There’s a point on We Are the Halluci Nation in which an unnamed narrator, speaking from the “Alie Nation Correctional Facility,” is addressing Chanie Wenjack, the Ojibwa boy who escaped a residential school in 1966, only to die on the railway tracks attempting to walk the 650 kilometres home. Whether he’s calling from the past, present or future is uncertain, but the message couldn’t be more clear: “Can you hear it Charlie?” the narrator asks. “Like a strong heart pumping, that’s the sound of 500 years and all of us still drumming.” It’s that undying sense of optimism and hope that ultimately triumphs on this album, but not before grappling with the damage done to Indigenous peoples all over the world by centuries of colonialism. This is the groundbreaking DJ trio’s third album, and by far A Tribe Called Red's most important, urgent and, above all, enjoyable project yet.
— Jesse Kinos-Goodin
Name: Lisa LeBlanc
Album: Why You Wanna Leave, Runaway Queen?
Hometown: Rosaireville, N.B.
Release date: Sept. 30, 2016
Polaris history: This is Lisa LeBlanc’s first appearance at the Polaris Music Prize.
About the album: Acadian singer-guitarist-banjo player Lisa LeBlanc laid it all bare on her sophomore album, Why You Wanna Leave, Runaway Queen?. It’s a fearless, rousing effort on which LeBlanc sings about getting friends through bad relationships, surviving terrible break-ups and reflecting honestly on her own past mistakes. Musically, the album is a highly likeable mix of rock, folk and blues, with some spaghetti western and Hawaiian lap steel thrown in for good measure.
— Andrea Gin
Name: Tanya Tagaq
Hometown: Cambridge Bay, Nunavut
Release date: Oct. 21, 2016
Polaris history: Tagaq won the 2014 Polaris Prize for her album Animism.
About the album: Last fall, Tanya Tagaq’s voice rose defiantly, singularly, to unleash and demand Retribution, an album and a damnation aimed at rape — of women, of land, of Indigenous rights. Arguably the fiercest album to come out of 2016, it was passed over for a Juno nomination earlier this year (a more jarring omission after Tagaq's incredible opening performance on the 2017 Junos broadcast alongside A Tribe Called Red). A second Polaris short-list nomination might make up for that.
— Holly Gordon
Release date: June 17, 2016
Polaris history: This is Weaves’ first Polaris appearance, both on the long and short list.
About the album: It may not sound like it at first, but Weaves is a really great pop band. Their debut, self-titled album is frenetic, frayed and fun. Guitars clash into drums, that then combust in a bombastically irresistible chorus. All the while, singer Jasmyn Burke plays ringleader with her dizzying refrains that can wrap themselves around your brain for days. When broken down to its individual elements, one can see the makings of a sugary pop melody wrapped in a chaotic coating. But when tossed together, something electric ignites and all you can do is hold on tight and prepare for a wild ride. — ML
Name: Leif Vollebekk
Album: Twin Solitude
Release date: Feb. 24, 2017
Polaris history: This is Leif Vollebekk’s first appearance at the Polaris Music Prize.
About the album: On Twin Solitude, Leif Vollebekk wields his considerable storytelling skills to utmost effect, singing songs about longing and contentment augmented by his emotive, melodic crooning and bare instrumentation. From the gentle lullaby of the album’s opening song, “Vancouver Time,” to its heart-rending closer, “Rest,” Twin Solitude is, simply put, a beautiful album, full of emotion and grace. — AG
Name: Lido Pimienta
Album: La Papessa
Hometown: London, Ont.
Release date: Oct. 28, 2016
Polaris history: This is Lido Pimienta’s first appearance at the Polaris Music Prize.
About the album: La Papessa translated in English means "high priestess," and when you take in the arresting power of Lido Pimienta’s passionate voice, it's hard to quibble. Colombian-born Pimienta's insistent vocal layerings are applied to a deftly executed fusion of Afro-Colombian music and electronic sonics that are inquisitively progressive. Undeniably born from grief, divorce and Pimienta's fiercely principled worldview on everything from gender inequality to water shortages, La Papessa is authentically wrought from the inextricably linked spheres of the personal and the political. — DC
Name: Leonard Cohen
Album: You Want it Darker
Release date: Oct. 21, 2016
Polaris history: This is Cohen’s first time on the short list, but his 2012 album, Old Ideas, made the long list. Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967) was also awarded the Slaight Family Heritage Prize.
About the album: It’s impossible to listen to You Want it Darker, Cohen’s 14th album, without thinking about his death just three weeks after its release. It is, after all, the way he wanted it, Cohen treating the album as both a confession for a life lived and the acceptance that it was nearing its end. “I’m ready my lord,” he sings on the title track, his voice rolling in like a distant thunder, deeper, both physically and spiritually, than ever before. Over nine songs, Cohen closely examines the philosophical themes to which he’s devoted his entire professional life, riding that line between the sacred and profane like no one else can, but with the advantage of someone who can finally accept that some questions will never be answered. It’s Cohen at his most vibrant and vulnerable, and one of the finest albums of his career. — JK-G
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