The shortlist for this year’s Polaris Prize was announced at the Drake Hotel this morning. The $20,000 prize, established by Steve Jordan and now in its third year, “annually honours, celebrates and rewards creativity and diversity in Canadian recorded music by recognizing, then marketing the albums of the highest artistic integrity, without regard to musical genre, professional affiliation, or sales history, as judged by a panel of selected critics and experts.” Last year, it went to Patrick Watson for his band’s Close to Paradise; they used it to pay off a $16,000 bill from Budget for crashing a rent-a-car. The year before that, it went to Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy); he used it to pay off his boyfriend’s student loans.
Ten artists and their albums made it through the first round of eliminations for the opportunity to pay off their or their friends’ debts: Black Mountain for In the Future, Basia Bulat for Oh, My Darling, Caribou for Andorra, Kathleen Edwards for Asking for Flowers, (Toronto’s!) Holy Fuck for LP, Plants and Animals for Parc Avenue, Shad for The Old Prince, Stars for In Our Bedroom After the War, Two Hours Traffic for Little Jabs, and The Weakerthans for Reunion Tour.
The ceremony was hosted by CBC Radio 3‘s Grant Lawrence (because it was being broadcast live, he had to announce Toronto’s sole contender as “Holy F”) and was littered with a handful of nominees past and present: Patrick Watson, who helped out with the announcements; Torquil Campbell of Stars; Joel Plaskett; Basia Bulat; Shad; and the gents of Two Hours Traffic. There were, of course, some notable records in the long list that were absent from the short one—like New Pornographers’ Challengers, Constantines’ Kensington Heights, Tegan and Sara’s The Con, Islands’ Arm’s Way, and Crystal Castles’ self-titled debut—but this is, after all, a prize that tends to go to the marginalized, lesser-known, lesser-established (and universally-liked) artists. As a result, it’s also unbelievably difficult to bet on…but we’ll go with Holy Fuck, just because we’d love to see how the mainstream media pulls off the asterisked announcement.
The winner is announced at an invite-only ceremony at the Phoenix on September 29; a gallery of today’s action is below. (Full disclosure: I was Polaris’ official photographer for the announcement.)