In review: Polaris shortlist 2013
Stetson – New History Warfare Vol 3
New History Warfare Vol 3: To See More Light is an album to either feel passionate about or strongly dislike—you cannot just be a casual fan. Stetson creates a sound that is dark yet ethereal at once. This is an album to listen to once because the sounds get quite irritating quickly.
It almost seems as though Stetson recorded two albums—the first half is very similar and sounds like one song while the second half focuses more on vocals.
Stetson creates a loop of saxophone that makes you feel very ill at ease. This is an album that demands your full attention at all times lest you miss one droning wail.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
If you ever need an album to listen to while studying for background noise, this is the perfect album. With no vocals, Godspeed You! brings you beautiful noise that isn’t overwhelming. The different instruments blend together a bit, but it is easy to see that this was goal.
The album consists of four songs, each clocking in at about 15-20 minutes. The transition from one song to the next is coherent but obvious. This is one of those albums that if you’re not paying attention, you will not know what song you’re listening to.
Metric – Synthetica
Indie rock veterans, Metric, have nothing but to be proud about their last album, Synthetica. Building off the sound that the band developed with Fantasies, the Toronto act grew from its disco-rock sound and has fully embraced its new wave and synth-pop roots.
Metric successfully bridged the gap between catchy verses and choruses and experienced musicianship, showing a strong sense of maturity with Synthetica. While the album plays it somewhat safe — the transition from Fantasies isn’t as big as it was between that and Live it Out! — the sound they now employ continues to work in the favour of the band.
METZ – METZ
METZ is rough, loud and extremely catchy. Like Stetson, they don’t exactly fit into the synth-electro sound that most of these albums seem to possess. METZ is a grittier sound with a solid beat to dance along to.
METZ takes a page from ‘70s punk with their short and aggressive songs. The guitars are always loud, the drums always banging and the vocals always assaulting. Though with this mix, it can be easy to have all these loud sounds mix together for an indiscernible mix of garbage. METZ does a respectable job of not letting this happen. “Wet Blanket” and “Headache” are the album’s stand-out tracks.
Purity Rings – Shrines
One of the freshest acts on the shortlist this year has to be Edmonton’s Purity Rings with their first studio album, Shrines. While also grouped into the same dream-pop, synth-heavy genre that multiple other albums for the Polaris this year are from, Shrines leans a bit more toward the house and post-dub step genre Although Megan James has soothing vocals, the uniqueness of their sound is a result of Corin Roddick’s impressive use of the instrumentals, mixing and beats.
Shrines is an excellent piece of musicianship; it’s a subtle, yet powerful electronic album that flows together eloquently.
Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob
Tegan and Sara’s eighth studio album is a far departure from their typical guitar-based sound seen predominantly on their older work. But the transition to a full blown electronic has been subtle and seamless; their 2011 album Sainthood was also a little electronic based.
The only negative for Tegan and Sara is their album sounds too polished in comparison to the other albums on the shortlist. Their voices don’t sound real at times.
Despite this, Tegan and Sara have put out a great indie electronic album — likely it will come down to either Metric or Tegan and Sara to win the Polaris.
A Tribe Called Red – Nation II Nation
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact sound of A Tribe Called Red, an urban Aboriginal electronic trio that infuses traditional pow-wow with house and dub-step. While the sound is certainly unique, Nation II Nation, especially with multiple listens can become tiresome.
This is not to say that the album doesn’t have its high points. Tracks such as “Red Riddim” and “Sweet Milk Pop” express the extensive skill the trio has. A Tribe Called Red has a profound message to send out to its listeners. This group has something going for them and may win the Polaris with future albums.
Whitehorse – The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss
Husband and wife duo Whitehorse have put out a very strong album, but if Polaris’s past behaviour is anything to study, they won’t take home the prize. This is only their second album and their first nominated. Whitehorse will, if this album has anything to do with it, be around for a while. They have plenty of time to actually win.
The album itself is a folk dream. Melissa McClelland’s clear vocals combined with the more acoustic sound are a complimentary mix. This album is one that will be played over and over again.
Young Galaxy – Ultramarine
Young Galaxy have brought the ‘80s back to life with their latest effort, Ultramarine, a dream-pop, electronically infused album that grows with every listen. The vocals of Catherine McCandless mix perfectly with the synthesizers and the relatively low tempo pace of the band.
Young Galaxy presents a mesmerizing collection that simultaneously makes the listener want to groove and relax — it simply depends on the mood of the listener. Despite producing a solid LP, Young Galaxy was probably chosen for the shortlist at the wrong time, especially against heavy weights such as Metric.
Zaki Ibrihim – Every Opposite
This is the debut album from Zaki Ibrihim, but it sounds like she’s been doing this all her life. Ibrihim’s voice is deep and a little sultry at times, which sounds great overtop of the synth beats in the background.
Ibrihim manages to create an album that only gets better after each listen. The opening track “Draw the Line” is one of the strongest on the album, best showcasing Ibrihim’s vocals without overpowering them with the synth as a few songs on the rest of the album does. This could be a serious contender for the prize and the money.