Our 2016 Polaris Music Prize short list

Canadian musicians shine like the North Star with the Polaris Music Prize.

How does the Polaris Music Prize work?

“The Polaris Music Prize is a not-for-profit organization that annually honours and rewards artists who produce Canadian music albums of distinction. A select panel of music critics judge and award the Prize without regard to musical genre or commercial popularity. Polaris Music Prize nominees and winners will be selected solely on artistic merit without regard to genre, sales history, or label affiliation.” – Polaris Music Prize 2016 rules and regulations

Often forgotten and overshadowed by big-name American acts, Canadian musicians kind of get the short end of the popularity stick. That’s what makes the Polaris Music Prize great: it’s all about Canadian music.

Ahead of the official 10 album short list announcement on July 14, we’ve decided to compile our own short list here at The Peak. Each of us created our own short list, and then the we featured the most frequently mentioned albums on our compiled list. Albums are presented in alphabetical order by artist.

Coeur de Pirate – Roses

This is my favourite album on The Peak’s short list. Coeur de Pirate alternates between English and French lyrics, giving a unique multicultural feel to the album. With a mellow-pop sound and beautiful vocals, this album is a fantastic listen for any occasion. Sure, only people who are fluent in French can be sure of how good the lyrics are, but if the feelings they invoke are any indication, they’re amazing. If you’re looking for a Canadian Halsey, I highly recommend this album. – JP

Destroyer – Poison Season

Destroyer was shortlisted for their 2011 release Kaputt, and Poison Season keeps the bar high for them. It’s important to acknowledge Kaputt’s success, because frontman Dan Bejar has acknowledged that he wouldn’t have been as ambitious with Poison Season had Kaputt been a flop. All the elements to love from Kaputt are still there — the elaborate musicality, Bejar’s poetic lyrics — and it also builds upon the feelings of yearning for more out of life. Bejar clearly believes that life can be a more beautiful thing, and the way he expresses that through Destroyer is a treat for Canadians to empathize with. – NR

Drake – VIEWS

With a refined sound and sharp lyrical focus, Drake shows his unique strength for unvarnished honesty and introspection on his latest, VIEWS. “Too Good,” “Controlla,” and “Views” are all highlights, and what is noticeable about this album is that it truly functions as an album, with no single song overshadowing the rest. The whole thing feels like a coherent thought, with songs flowing into one another seamlessly. By the end of it, you’ll feel exhausted but enlightened by the glimpse into a deeply complicated artist. – JD

Grimes – Art Angels

Art Angels is a bewildering and restless work of art. Its songs seamlessly mix pop, EDM, and electronica, but what is truly unique is that Grimes never sounds derivative. Moreover, Grimes as the sole producer, writer, and instrumentalist of this album puts herself into every corner of it. From the sonic highs of “REALiTi” and “Butterfly,” to the dancefloor stomp of “Venus Fly” and “Kill v. Maim,” to the sun-tinged pop with a dark side of “California” and “Flesh without Blood.” This album is filled to the brim with excitement and energy — even after hearing this album over and over, it still feels like I’m listening for the first time. Without a doubt, Grimes has made not just the best Canadian album of the year, but the best album of the year, period. – JD

Half Moon Run – Sun Leads Me On

This album doesn’t feel Canadian. This could be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective, but given the overall strength of the album that is more of an inconsequential fact. The strong vocals along with the well-developed sound and strong production values allow this album to stand up to bigger name American indie-folk artists like Gregory Alan Isakov and Lord Huron. This album — and Half Moon Run — have been on pretty high rotation for me and it would be nice to see them get recognized for their talent. – JW

Carly Rae Jepsen – E•MO•TION

What makes this album great is how Carly Rae Jepsen tries something a bit different with every song, but they all stay true to her sound. Known for her upbeat pop anthems, E•MO•TION brings that and more: from the dance track “Boy Problems” to the softened love song “Favourite Colour,” Jepsen really explores what can be done in an electro-pop album. This album is, without a doubt, Jepsen’s best work. Suck it, “Call Me Maybe.” – JP

Junior Boys – Big Black Coat

This Ontario duo have always made electro records for that one sad guy at the party who only talks to the people he already knows (read: me), so it came as a surprise when they released Big Black Coat last year, easily their most accessible and extroverted album yet. There are elements of disco, krautrock, and even straightforward pop on here, all brought together by singer Jeremy Greenspan’s sexy warble. The Boys have done plenty of great work over their decade-long career, but Big Black Coat deserves special recognition for how much it tries — and how often it succeeds — at doing something entirely new. – MJH

Peaches – Rub

Peaches (née Merrill Nisker) has never been one for modesty or moderation, and we can thank our lucky stars for that. The singer and performance artist has become an icon as a result of her embrace of gender fluidity, sex positive lyrics, and grotesque music videos. Long story short, she is awesome. And Rub is arguably her brashest, sexiest, and downright weirdest record ever, featuring such gems as “Can’t talk right now / This chick’s dick is in my mouth” and “Pussy’s big and I’m proud of it / You can dig dig dig in and out of it.” Seriously, how can you say no to that? – MJH

Andy Shauf – The Party
I haven’t been able to stop listening to The Party since it came out. The singer-songwriter that Shauf has become manifests itself beautifully here with his stories of the partygoers, and his ability to blend that all with piano, clarinet, guitar, and strings is beautiful. The most common comparison made with Shauf is to Elliott Smith, but The Party allows him to clearly define his own space, one that should be recognized by the jurors of the Polaris Music Prize. The ability to put such a range of emotions and moods to catchy compositions shows as much. – NR

The Strumbellas – Hope

This album isn’t all exhilaration and fun times, as the lead single “Spirits” would lead you to believe. It’s a well-balanced album filled with lyrics that manage to be both poignant and catchy at the same time. While this catchiness could come across as almost obnoxiously pop-y sounding, they manage to avoid that by making you want to sing along with lyrics like “Nothing is OK / Oh, except for this night.” It’s the little things that make this album a standout in a sea of albums that just sound sort of the same. – JW