It is impossible to predict who will make the Polaris Music Prize short list. There is always a deserving album that doesn’t make the cut, as well as an artist or two who are unknown to most Canadians. After the reveal of this year’s short list, there are a few names that stand out as snubs and surprises.
One can make a case for any of the long list nominees to make the short list. Rich Aucoin and Bahamas each produced albums that received critical acclaim and positive fan reactions. Past winner Patrick Watson seemed like a lock to make the short list, and past nominees Joel Plaskett and the Weeknd could both make the short list without raising many eyebrows.
In the end, those names weren’t on enough ballots. You’ll just have to accept that. Still, there are a few artists that are conspicuously absent from the short list.
1. Dan Mangan
Nice, Nice, Very Nice made the 2010 short list, and Mangan has since become a headliner at festivals and theatres around the world. Oh Fortune was one of the most anticipated albums of last year, as fans looked forward to hearing a gritty new sound from the Vancouver singer-songwriter. Mangan’s place on the short list seemed like a sure thing after winning Juno Awards for new artist of the year and alternative album of the year, as well as the CBC Radio 3 Bucky Award for best song for “Rows of Houses.”
2. Leonard Cohen
It would have been so great to see Cohen become the oldest nominee (by about three decades) to ever make the short list. The 77-year-old’s Old Ideas is his first album in eight years, and many are calling it his best in over 20. The record received almost exclusively rave reviews, including a 4.5 out of five from Rolling Stone and a 9.5 out of 10 from Paste. Hopefully it won’t be another eight years before we hear from Cohen again.
By no means are French language albums assured of making the short list, but in four of the past six years, at least one francophone album has made the cut. Karkwa memorably took home the prize in 2010. This year’s short list contained Avec pas d'casque, Ariane Moffatt, Marie-Pierre Arthur and Coeur de Pirate, with the latter looking strong enough to make the short list. Mais non. Désolé.
Of the 10 artists on the short list, most of them are well-known in Canadian music, if not internationally. F--ked Up won the prize in 2009. Cadence Weapon, Kathleen Edwards and Feist have all made the short list before. Feist even won three Junos this year. Drake has the most mainstream popularity of the nominees. Who knows if he’ll even get out of bed for the $30,000 Polaris Prize, as he raps “I guess it really is just me, myself and all my millions.”
Of the remaining nominees, there are only a couple of new faces that could be labeled as surprises.
1. Cold Specks
Al Spx is a 23-year-old self-described “doom soul” singer-songwriter who performs under the name Cold Specks. The Etobicoke, Ont., artist already had a large following in the U.K. before she even released her debut album in May of this year. While the reaction to the album has been positive, it’s a bit of a surprise to see it make the short list ahead of so many heavy hitters.
2. Yamantaka // Sonic Titan
This Toronto-via-Montreal musical collective are the creators of “noh-wave,” an indefinable musical genre that falls somewhere between prog, psychedelic, metal and pop. It’s “that racket” your parents complained about. Their self-titled album made a few best of 2011 lists, but they were by no means a favourite to make the Polaris short list.
Trend: The power of Pitchfork?
Of the 40 albums on the Polaris long list, only 15 were deemed important enough to be reviewed by American music blog Pitchfork. Now that the list has been cut to 10, all of the remaining nominees happen to be albums that were reviewed by Pitchfork. Are we seeing the influence of the blog in this year’s short list, or is Pitchfork just astutely picking the most important albums to review? That may be a topic for debate.
Of the nominees, Japandroids’ Celebration Rock earned the highest rating from Pitchfork, with 8.8 out of 10. Cadence Weapon had the lowest, with 6.0.
Keep an eye on CBC Music's Polaris 2012 page over the coming weeks for profiles of all the nominees.
Your complete Polaris 2012 coverage
Polaris Music Prize 2012 short list announced
Polaris 2012 Shortlist: If YOU chose it
on Jul 17, 2012