Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Abstract Index Playlist - July 1/10

Yesterday the Polaris Prize Short List was announced. I've got to admit I felt a little detached from the goings on - maybe it was the heat. I'm most active in the jury discussions leading up to the Long List, which displays a greater range of the records the jurors were mulling over. By the time it gets reduced to ten, meh on most counts - I've only played two of these artists on the Abstract Index or Funky Fridays.

I hope Shad wins. It's an easy record to like - lots of hooks, personality, and positive yet introspective (Thanks Del Cowie for that observation) insight which resonates with a lot of Canadians. It's a disc that will convert non-hip hop fans, but also impress diehards with its inarguable skill, originality and production. And you know what? Hip hop is more popular than indie rock and it would be nice if Polaris were to recognize one of the outstanding records of the genre as a standard-bearer for Canadian music, especially in this era of Drake-mania.

That said, I would like to distinguish between Polaris' mission to find the best album in Canada from the Abstract Index approach to Canadian content, and how the two relate. I have to consider both albums and individual tracks, old stuff and new, local and national, and of course music which suits the groove-oriented nature of this show as opposed to the hegemonic view of Canadian music being primarily about indie rock.

(To those who profess that 'indie rock' is a meaningless term, I refer you to 'world music' - a term that makes no sense to those involved in it, but is used to signify "the other" by critics because of its cultural i.e. not from here connotations. Indie rock is an impenetrable "other" for those musical forms that will never benefit from its network)

Increasingly, this kind of music is not being represented on album, it's coming out as EPs or single tracks. As has often been the case in dance music, album statements tend not to be the best way to experience the vitality of the music.

The music that achieves Polaris notoriety is that which focuses on the album as the overwhelmingly complete expression of an artist. Their careers progress from album to album, with money invested accordingly in tour support, videos etc.

A record that I championed this year, South Rakkas Crew's 'The Stimulus Package' was a notable exception. It was the first Listed disc to include multiple versions of riddims, to say nothing of the Caribbean cultural spirit infused in the whole Package. It was a party-starting, satisfying full length release that was not intended to be an image-defining, capital 'A' artistic statement the way most rock albums are. SRK have continued to do remixes and new tracks, some of which are for sale, some of which are free; The Stimulus Package was just a link in the chain. They're coming up on a cross-Canada tour, some 7 months after the 'release' of the album, which brings them to a more relevant Caribana-timed jam in Toronto on July 31 which is probably as important a stretch in the calendar as their long-ago full length release.

As if to prove it was an unlikely selection for the Long List, it's probably the only record to receive the Polaris hat-tip that doesn't have a publicist shopping it around.

It's the kind of record and musical aesthetic that year after year, Toronto's campus community radio stations keep promoting because mainstream media by and large ignores the massive popularity of Caribbean rhythms. That's what I've grown up with, that's what I'm attuned to. That's my city's music, and I'd like to believe, is becoming a significant part of the music of other cities in Canada. But it's not reflected in the country's music infrastructure. I fear that with the disintegration of the primacy of the LP format, musics that aren't already successful in conventionally Canadian terms (Soundscan sales, official downloads, CBC Radio 3 blessing, established management) will simply give up in trying to appeal to a national audience and never create a ripple in Polaris, focusing instead on local viability and international possibilities.

Part of the reason I stay with Exclaim is the chance to influence the national dialogue of what "popular" or "major" Canadian artists are - for instance Alpha Yaya Diallo in the latest issue. Even then, there usually has to be a full length release to hang a pitch on. It's a similar situation with Polaris; there is too much music happening at a community level for it to be summarily ignored at a national one. I want to start and participate in new conversations about popular Canadian culture. Or at least argue against the same old ones.

What's the upshot of all this? If you are making beat-oriented music and releasing a full length album, do what you have to do to find your fanbase, but it's still worth it to think nationally. Research the Polaris jury and do some selective social networking. There are quite a few of us who appreciate Canadian music that confounds the traditional tropes of Canadiana; maybe enough to tip the scales to a Short List nomination at some point...

And then there's a whole other debate about jazz and experimental music...


All Canadian Grade AA or above this week.

hook and sling - frank motley & the motley crew (jazzman)
last bongo in belgium - incredible bongo band (mr. bongo)
burn - willie williams (heartbeat)
lostentation dub - mossman (dispensation)
sick im kid - dub trio (roir)
strugglin - ljx (no label)
money worries - the maytones & i roy (heartbeat)
deep structure - deadbeat (wagon repair)
once and again - eddie c (pawn shop)
congo nuevo - rise ashen & blissom (balanced)
perdon pantone - pan/tone (cereal killers)
coco drunk - poirier rmx by douster (ninja tune)
on the insufficiency of words - elizabeth shepherd (do right)
summer sounds - maylee todd (do right)
mental fitness - erik hove (effendi)
our man in cleveland - arkana music (no label)
nearness/distance - feuermusik (standard form)
sonsonneh - kocassale dioubate (no label)
auto rickshaw - alex cattaneo/ganesh anandan (no label)
latcho boogie - lubo alexandrov (no label)
belly off - peter pozorek (no label)
gladstoned - huelepega sound system (no label)

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