Thursday, July 12, 2007

North Stars

So I was a Polaris Prize juror this year. I didn't know what to expect from the experience, except to make my voice heard. Knowing full well that maybe one of my top five had a chance at inclusion on the short list, I can't say that I'm indignant about the relatively homogenous results. Besides, I own only one of these ten records (Miracle Fortress, which I would like a lot more if I didn't hate the fucking Beach Boys) so I shouldn't really comment on the quality.

There was a message board so that all 170+ jurors could talk amongst themselves. I was an active participant, but was part of a minority of jurors who were so inclined. Nevertheless, I pitched my faves along with one or two lines of support, and engaged others on their selections. I think that this aspect of the deliberations has the greatest potential for future years - but only if the conversations are louder, longer and include a greater proportion of the jurors. Maybe it should be mandatory for all jurors to contribute to the discussion boards, regardless of the logistics of keeping up with the sheer amount of conversation. The ideal result would be that strictly local or niche-type albums might generate buzz in media far beyond their initial impact. These discs might not make the short list, but hopefully national awareness would be heightened, which never hurts if you're a band trying to tour this big-assed country on the usual budget.

After reflecting for two days about what to say, if anything, about the short list, I started thinking about the unpublished long list. This contained some 200+ plus records compiled from every single ballot. Steve Jordan, the executive director of the prize, said something like 'it contained every record released in Canada last year'. That doesn't do the quality of the list justice. It contains a few unfathomably bad discs, but the vast majority is composed of all the specialty content that didn't make the short list: outstanding classical, jazz, hip hop, electronics, folk, world, metal and punk from the four corners of Canada. I would love to see the long list published.

Zoilus has a conversation going on about Polaris and I agree with Liisa Ladouceur comments that the jury should not be reduced - perhaps the Polaris deliverables can be expanded? Maybe the next 50 beyond the top 10 deserve "Polaris Citations" so that artists can put another blurb in their bios? Boy, what a minority-rights Canadian suggestion that is.... everyone gets a brown ribbon that says "Participant". Maybe jurors should submit 25 word blurbs with their picks, to be considered for publication with the long list? The potential of this kind of association of music media is great; why not serve up several sides of kimchi with the main course?

For the record, here are the picks I submitted to the long list. Not too many surprises for the Abstract Index massive:

Feuermusik - Goodbye Lucille

I played the s*** out of this disc. I thought it had a shot.

Twilight Circus Presents Rasta International

As I said at the time - and this has been echoed in the discussions among jurors - when someone releases music in a fashion which deviates from the album a year approach, it's difficult to compare their work with others. Most jurors were referring to increasing importance of single tracks and DJ mixes, but in this case, Ryan Twilight released 3 albums at the same time last year, each of which contained rhythms found on the others. This one though was a career benchmark in my opinion and one of the best roots albums from last year. I interviewed him a couple of days ago and was pleased to find out that he considered it a high water mark too.

Les Amis Au Pakistan - Espace Libidinale

Here's my 'mark of excellence' review from the latest Exclaim. Some of the craziest pop I've heard in a long while. It snuck on to my list at the very end.

Kobo Town - Independence

Great lyrics and rhythms done in a totally unique way; merging the Canadian singer-songwriter tradition with old time calypsonian wordplay. I don't think this record could have been made anywhere other than Canada. If the national music media had really learned the lessons of Jamaica To Toronto (i.e. don't sleep on the huge Caribbean cultural presence in Canada!) they'd have been all over this.

Ziya Tabassian - Tombak

A cultural and artistic milestone in the Ambiences Magnetiques catalog. First and foremost, it's a hell of an improv record; one of the very few I can think of using a solo hand drum. It's also an interesting record to be coming out of new New France by an artist who is neither Anglais nor Francais.

Many honourable mentions include Jesse Zubot - Dementia, Fond of Tigers, ZMF Trio - Circling The Path (if only I could have combined these three into some kind of MegaZubot pitch...), Lina Allemano - Pinkeye, Drumheller - Wives, Naw - City Saturate, Scotty Hard's Radical Reconstruction Surgery, Lori Freedman - 3, Andy Haas - Humanitarian War, Tim Hecker - Harmony In Ultraviolet, Afrodizz - Frootz, Neon Tetra - Home.

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