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Meet the 10 artists shortlisted for the 2018 Polaris Music Prize

By
Melody Lau

The 2018 Polaris Music Prize short list is finally here.

For some, there will be a few familiar names on this year's top 10 artists such as the Grammy-nominated Daniel Caesar or previous Polaris nominees, Alvvays and Weaves. Other names on this list may be new to music fans, though. Perhaps you've never heard of Hubert Lenoir or Partner. Maybe you've only heard the names Jeremy Dutcher and Pierre Kwenders.

Regardless of your knowledge of this year's list, we're here to help you catch up and provide an introduction to everyone on this year's short list. So, scroll down, read up on the artists and check out these 10 incredible albums before this year's big gala.

CBC Music will stream this year's Polaris Music Prize gala live on Sept. 17 on cbcmusic.ca/polaris.


Name: Alvvays
Album: Antisocialites
Hometown: Toronto, Ont. (its members are originally from Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island)
Release date: Sept. 9, 2017

Polaris history: Alvvays are two-for-two with their albums. Their debut self-titled release was also shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize in 2015.

About the album: After the release of Alvvays’ Polaris-nominated debut, singer Molly Rankin told CBC Music that she wasn’t sure “anyone was really craving another 35 minutes of my voice.” Not only did people want more from the Toronto band, but many embraced their sophomore release, Antisocialites, a record that we described as “a break-up record written from the other side of survival.” The jangle-pop palette remained, but there is a noticeable sonic evolution marked by more risks taken on tracks like “Plimsoll Punks” and closer “Forget About Life.”

Recommended if you like: The Jesus and Mary Chain, Teenage Fanclub

Name: Jean-Michel Blais
Album: Dans ma main
Hometown: Nicolet, Que.
Release date: May 11, 2018

Polaris history: Blais’ first album, II, made the 2016 Polaris long list, but this year will mark his first time making the short list.

About the album: Pianist Blais took over two years to put together his debut album, II, but for his followup, he concentrated all his work into just one week of recording. Drawing some influence from his collaborative EP with producer CFCF, Dans ma main incorporates electronic elements to create something much more experimental, but still incredibly intimate and emotional.

Recommended if you like: Gonzales, Ludovico Einaudi

Name: Daniel Caesar
Album: Freudian
Hometown: Oshawa, Ont.
Release date: Aug. 25, 2017

Polaris history: Caesar’s second EP, Pilgrim’s Paradise, was on the 2016 long list. Freudian, Caesar’s first full-length album, will be the first release of his to make the short list.

About the album: Caesar’s debut full-length is perhaps the most well-known album on this year’s Polaris short list. The Toronto singer’s album is a gorgeous collection of songs that draw heavily from Caesar’s gospel upbringing, fusing that with modern R&B elements and lyrics that ruminate on the complex highs and lows of falling in and out of love. Freudian has already gone on to win R&B/soul recording of the year at this year’s Junos and was nominated for two Grammy Awards.

Recommended if you like: Frank Ocean, Miguel

Name: Jeremy Dutcher
Album: Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa
Hometown: Tobique First Nation, N.B. (now based in Toronto)
Release date: April 6, 2018

Polaris history: This is Dutcher’s first time on the Polaris long and short list.

About the album: Dutcher's debut album is an act of preservation. It uses 100-year-old wax cylinder recordings of traditional Wolastoq songs, a language that is now only fluently spoken by less than 100 people, and is fused with Dutcher's own musical interpretations, oftentimes operatic and orchestral. On CBC's Unreserved, Dutcher said this: "In my family, in the past couple of years, we lost three fluent speakers. When we lose that, we're not losing words. We're losing entire world views and ones that are so rooted in Wolastoqiyik worldview that it's really, really essential and it's really timely. And I think time is running out almost, and so there's an urgency for me for working in the language."

Recommended if you like: Andrea Bocelli, Owen Pallett

Name: Pierre Kwenders
Album: MAKANDA at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time
Hometown: Montreal, Que.
Release date: Sept. 8, 2017

Polaris history: Kwenders last made an appearance on the 2015 long list for his 2014 album, Le Dernier Empereur.

About the album: On Kwenders’ second album, the Montreal musician continues to “create a bridge between Africa and the rest of the world,” as he told NOW Magazine. MAKANDA contains songs sung and rapped in four different languages: English, French, Shona and Lingala. It’s also an homage to the women in his life — his mother, grandmother and aunt — whose strength inspired the album title. (Makanda translated to “strength.”) Last September, CBC Music said it “captures life in a circle, a belief that there is no beginning or end, no race to some imagined victory, but that everything is connected.”

Recommended if you like: Amadou & Mariam, Lhasa

Name: Hubert Lenoir
Album: Darlène
Hometown: Courville, Que.
Release date: Feb. 2, 2018

Polaris history: Lenoir is another first-timer on the long and short list.

About the album: After spending some time in the band the Seasons, Francophone artist Hubert Lenoir embarked on a solo career and recorded his debut record, Darlène. The album, which he described to Exclaim! as a "modern-day opera," fuses prog-rock, jazz and psych to create a dazzling tale of love and loss. It was also an exploratory process for Lenoir who adds that the album helped him discover more about himself and come to terms with his sexual indentity.

Recommended if you like: David Bowie, MGMT

Name: Partner
Album: In Search of Lost Time
Hometown: Windsor, Ont. (originally from Sackville, N.B.)
Release date: Sept. 8, 2017

Polaris history: This is Partner’s debut on the Polaris long and short list.

About the album: Part comedy act, part guitar-shredding rock duo, Partner has created a musical brand that is uniquely their own. Songs off their debut album, In Search of Lost Time, are packed with odes to ‘90s movies, weed and Canada. It’s also a proudly queer album with songs like “Play the Field” and “Women of Dreams” unabashedly singing about queer desire, and using pronouns to reflect that, which is still a rather radical act that needs to be embraced more by artists.

Recommended if you like: Weezer, Veruca Salt

Name: Snotty Nose Rez Kids
Album: The Average Savage
Hometown: Vancouver, B.C.
Release date: Sept. 13, 2017

Polaris history: This is Snotty Nose Rez Kids’ first time on the Polaris long and short list.

About the album: Snotty Nose Rez Kids has had a very busy few years and The Average Savage marked their second full-length of 2017. The album, which samples old films and cartoons that stereotype Indigenous people in an act to reclaim those hurtful slurs, is a lively, energetic ode to the Haisla First Nation reserve where the duo comes from. "It's a way to give a rant in the form of music," they told CBC News. "And that way people actually sit there and listen as opposed to being there in person and arguing."

Recommended if you like: Aesop Rock, Eminem

Name: U.S. Girls
Album: In a Poem Unlimited
Hometown: Toronto (originally from Philadelphia/Chicago)
Release date: Feb. 16, 2018

Polaris history: U.S. Girls’ last album, Half Free, was shortlisted in 2016.

About the album: Meg Remy's sixth U.S. Girls release finds her at her fullest, both in a band sense as well as in sound. Calling on a group of talented Canadian musicians, including Michael Rault, Basia Bulat, Jennifer Castle, Max Turnbull and the Cosmic Range, In a Poem Unlimited creates a lush world that bounces from disco and funk to jazzed-out psych-rock. Lyrically, the album tackles gendered violence head-on, reflecting on heavy issues couched in shimmering melodies.

Recommended if you like: Madonna, ABBA

Name: Weaves
Album: Wide Open
Hometown: Toronto, Ont.
Release date: Oct. 6, 2017

Polaris history: Weaves are the only act to return for a second year in a row. Last year, they were shortlisted for their debut self-titled album and even premiered a track off of Wide Open, the Tanya Tagaq collaboration “Scream,” during their gala performance.

About the album: Weaves made a name for themselves by creating off-kilter pop songs that pulled formulas apart and stitched them back together in jagged, new structures. But on their sophomore release, which was written and recorded on a shorter timeline, Weaves opted for a more refined approach, one that still found a way to show off their strengths — singer Jasmyn Burke’s flexible vocals, Morgan Waters’ memorable guitar riffs — while moving their sound forward.

Recommended if you like: The Pixies, tUnE-yArDs

Related:

Polaris Music Prize short list revealed

2018 Polaris Music Prize: Arcade Fire, Daniel Caesar, Gord Downie make this year's long list

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Celebrating the best of Canadian music from 2018. 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 Weaves, Daniel Ceasar, Jeremy Dutcher, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Alvvays and more