Polaris 2014: Demo Staff Picks

Drake, Tim Hecker, Chad VanGaalen

Five days from now, the 2014 Polaris Music Prize shortlist will officially be revealed. One lucky Canadian artist or band, after careful selection by a panel of judges, will be leaving the prize’s annual gala with $30,000 in hand. With its many groundbreaking albums, narrowing down this year’s longlist is sure to be a challenge. Here, some of Demo’s contributors weigh in on the albums and artists they hope to see make it through the cut.

Drake, Nothing Was the Same (Album Artwork)Ayla Shiblaq on Drake’s Nothing Was the Same

Full disclosure: I’ve never been the biggest fan of Drake. My criticism has ranged from saying Drake ruined “Fuckin’ Problems” to claiming that his 2011 release, Take Care, was overrated. I’ve never hated the guy, he just wasn’t particularly my style. But his 2013 release of Nothing Was the Same changed everything for me. Drake somehow brings me to sympathize with his concerns on this record. From his jealous new friends to worrying about being late to see his girlfriend, Drake’s concerns are ones that don’t align with mine at all. Yet for some reason, I understand. I want to tell Drake everything is going be okay and that his city is here for him. Many may find this album whiney, but I truly believe that Drake is completely disclosing a side of himself that was only seen at a surface level — a side where he treats his fans like old friends. Drake, I argue, is his complete self on Nothing Was the Same.

My change of heart and the connection he was able to establish with me as a listener is the reason I think Drake deserves this Polaris Prize. I’m an extremely stubborn person, so the fact that Drake’s album commanded my attention in such a way — with nearly flawless single “Hold On We’re Going Home,” as well as tracks like “305 to My City” and “Connect” — deserves some kind of recognition, whether it’s a Grammy or just a certificate I’m willing to personally send to his address. Like many of his fans, I’ve been converted, and just as his title implies, the relationship between us will never be the same.

Tim Hecker, Virgins (Album Artwork)James Li on Tim Hecker’s Virgins

Montreal producer Tim Hecker is one of the most vital Canadian musicians today, and his latest album, Virgins, is proof of that. One of the album’s tracks is titled “Incense at Abu Ghraib.” Liturgical and violent, it might just smell how Virgins sounds. Put on the album and you could swear an intoxicating smoke was wafting from your speakers. Virgins is a clash between electronic and acoustic: tape loops, sawtooth synths, and granular distortion eat away at gorgeously arranged strings, woodwinds, and harpsichords. Virgins washes the listener in under waves of noise on tracks like “Stab Variation,” but even the quietest moments on Virgins are breathtaking. “Black Refraction,” for example, is a piano piece so delicate that it practically crumbles into dust by the time it ends. There are many excellent Polaris nominees for sure: in my opinion, jazz upstarts BadBadNotGood, death metal monks Gorguts, and Lynchian folksters Timber Timbre all deserve a place on the shortlist and a shot at glory. But unless there’s another Canadian who makes music as haunting as Hecker’s, this year’s Polaris is his to win.

Chad VanGaalen, Shrink Dust (Album Artwork)Maria Sokulsky-Dolnycky on Chad VanGaalen’s Shrink Dust

Chad VanGaalen knows how to write an evocative song. His wavering voice is like the plaintive cry of a wailing banshee at its most haunting, carrying the weight of a disturbed and tortured soul that is well acquainted with the monsters living under the bed. His lyrics are like a punch to the gut at their most powerful. With Shrink Dust, VanGaalen proves that he is still the wizard of weird, blending freak folk, psych rock and a bit of country to create a set of songs that are at once wonderfully quirky and pleasantly accessible, yet carry traces of having come from the dark recesses of his mind. Memorable melodies and expansive, devilishly catchy choruses soar, but VanGaalen’s vivid imagery (which sometimes borders on being grotesque) brings the record back down to earth. Possibly his most accessible work to date, Shrink Dust is eerily beautiful and darkly enchanting, and definitely worth checking out.


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