Polaris, politics and artistic merit

The Panel

Sarah Murphy (Arts Editor)

Mike Lakusiak (Campus News Editor)

Rebecca Vasluianu (In Depth Editor)

Judith Brunton (Radio Laurier Program Manager)

Bryn Ossington (WLUSP President)

The Nominees

The Besnard Lakes The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night

Despite rave reviews for its indie twist on progressive rock, Student Publications (WLUSP) failed to fully grasp the glory that some have seen in The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night.

Campus News Editor Mike Lakusiak remarked that he was “not impressed,” though he recognized that the album was “a step forward” from the Montreal band’s previous releases.

WLUSP President Bryn Ossington liked the album, but seemed skeptical as to whether or not it was “Polaris-worthy.”

Radio Laurier’s Program Manager Judith Brunton also found the Besnard Lakes’ album to be lacking in exceptional quality, though she claims that “they have a place in their scene and they can hold on to it with this album.”

The panel unanimously agreed that a more deserving nominee could have been chosen for the shortlist.

Broken Social Scene Forgiveness Rock Record

The panel was divided on the latest record from one of Canada’s most influential and collaborative musical ensembles.

Arts Editor Sarah Murphy preferred the new “cohesive, tight-sounding and put together” sound that came through on Forgiveness Rock Record, while Lakusiak believed that the disjointed and sometimes shambolic sound on previous albums was the charm of Broken Social Scene’s music.

With the band’s decision to trim their often overwhelming line-up of musicians, Ossington believes that this album ended up “missing a lot” and thinks that Forgiveness should not be the item in the Broken Social Scene (BSS) catalogue that is finally awarded the Polaris Music Prize, while In Depth Editor Rebecca Vasluianu merely described it as “alright.”

Resoundingly opposed to BSS winning, Brunton claimed that this album sounded like “the dad-rock ambient version of good Broken Social Scene from the past,” though she vehemently defended the merit of older material like You Forgot It In People.

The notion that BSS are in strong contention for a win due to their already-existing body of work that has gone unrecognized by Polaris introduced issues with jury politics. Although the award should be granted based solely on artistic merit, political questions arise as with any awards show.

It was the panel’s consensus that should BSS win, it would most likely be a vote to reward the band for their career achievements, not for Forgiveness Rock Record.

Caribou Swim

Previous winner Caribou wound up on the shortlist again this year for his album Swim.

Vasluianu argued that this past year’s release was not as good as the 2008 Polaris-winning Andorra, though Ossington felt its spot on the shortlist was well-deserved and Lakusiak “liked it tremendously.”

Brunton described the one man electronic act’s Swim as “beautiful, but not always accessible,” which perhaps explains the panel’s divided opinions.

Karkwa Le Chemins de Verre

The panel managed to agree that the sole Francophone nominees on the list were indeed deserving of the acclaim they’ve received.

Lakusiak pointed out that because the album presents a language barrier to some listeners, it’s “easy to have a prejudice” before hearing Le Chemins de Verre, while Murphy agreed that not understanding the lyrical elements of the songs could be considered a drawback.

Nonetheless, each panel member was thoroughly impressed by the French Canadian musicians.

Vasluianu endorsed Karkwa as having the best album in the bunch and Lakusiak believes that “amidst the other nominees, it stands out.”

Dan Mangan Nice, Nice, Very Nice

Seemingly a favourite amongst WLUSP, British Columbia-based singer-songwriter Dan Mangan’s latest album won rave reviews across the board.

Nice, Nice, Very Nice marvelously demonstrates Mangan’s ability to tell stories through music. The sound is far from aggressive, but the songs are accessible to most audiences and are memorable long after an initial listen.

After hearing it for the first time, Lakusiak was “immediately amazed” and months later is of the same persuasion.

With the prize supposedly being awarded solely on artistic merit, Brunton declared that Mangan has “incredible artistic ability” and went on to say that he seems like an artist who truly earned his nod by working his ass off.

She further justified Mangan’s praise by remarking that he has the potential to become “a staple in the Canadian scene.”

Ossington, Vasluianu and Murphy all enthusiastically supported the comments made by the rest of the panel.

Owen Pallett Heartland

Previous winner of the 2006 Polaris Music Prize (under the pseudonym Final Fantasy), Pallett snagged another nomination for his concept album Heartland.

Brunton described the album’s arrangement as “very brave and very beautiful,” while Ossington remarked that “whatever Pallett touches turns to gold.” He also praised Heartland’s production quality, but believed there were better overall nominees in this years contest.

Lakusiak somewhat agreed, stating that “amongst the crowd Pallett’s in right now, I don’t see his album as superior.”

Vasluianu and Murphy questioned Pallett’s ability to outdo the 2006 winning album He Poos Clouds, deciding that it is improbable that he will be rewarded the prize again this year.

Radio Radio Belmundo Regal

Arguably the most unique entry on the shortlist this year, Radio Radio’s album acted as the panel’s first introduction to Acadian hip hop.

Words like campy, fun and ridiculous were thrown around as the panel grappled to find a comprehensive way to define Belmundo Regal.

Ossington felt as a band that is respected within its own obscure scene, Radio Radio was a justifiable inclusion on the shortlist for Polaris this year, while Murphy commented that Belmundo Regal deserved recognition simply for adding variety to the sometimes standard, indie-rock-heavy list.

The Sadies Darker Circles

The Sadies are good at what they do.

They have been producing what Lakusiak deemed solid “Canadian bar music” for the last 12 years, but the panel objected to the idea of granting a prize for the best album of the year to a band for having a well-respected back-catalogue.

That said, Darker Circles is still a great album that showcases how much the band has grown over time.

Catchy, jangly riffs permeate the album, making it difficult for listeners to not tap their foot along to the music.

Not a favourite album amongst WLUSP, but nonetheless respected; Ossington closed the discussion saying, “I understand why it’s on the list.”


Laurier alumnus Shad returns to the Canadian hip hop scene with his second Polaris-nominated album TSOL.

Described by Murphy as music that is “super articulate, intelligent and still relatable,” the album also provides much-needed diversity on the list by incorporating yet another genre.

Lakusiak affectionately referred to TSOL as “a wonderful album by a wonderful human being,” whereas Brunton aired her concerns that Shad’s chances of winning may be affected by the Polaris jury’s desire to “look cool” by selecting a rap album.

Tegan & Sara Sainthood

Twins Tegan and Sara Quin sparked some heated debate amongst panel members, though ultimately it was unanimously agreed that Sainthood should not have been included on the shortlist.

Previous fans of the band, Ossington and Lakusiak both agreed that this album is not their best work – something they attribute to over production and a failed attempt at a “retro-pop thing.”

Brunton felt that the duo’s increased success has turned Tegan & Sara in to “a universal gateway indie rock band that feels pressure to be something that they don’t need to be.”

Vasluianu and Murphy criticized the album for sounding too similar to their other material, lacking any real artistic growth.

The Panel’s Predictions

Mike Lakusiak

Should win: Dan Mangan

Will win: Broken Social Scene

Rebecca Vasluianu

Should win: Dan Mangan/Karkwa

Will win: Broken Social Scene

Judith Brunton

Should win: Dan Mangan

Will win: Shad

Bryn Ossington

Should win: Dan Mangan

Will win: Karkwa

Sarah Murphy

Should win: Karkwa

Will win: Dan Mangan

The Polaris Music Prize winner will be announced on September 20 at a gala in Toronto. For more information visit the Polaris Music Prize website.