Since its establishment in 2006, the Polaris Music Prize has become more than a lump sum award and a series of big parties — it’s a celebration of Canadian music and culture, and a means of cultivating regional and national pride.
While Canada’s cultural hubs — particularly Toronto or Montreal — tend to contribute a majority of the fêted artists, three of the 2014 short list nominees have roots in Southwestern Ontario.
Here’s a quick look at our hometown heroes:
Basia Bulat, Heart of My Own:
Bulat broke into a music career while studying English at Western University, where she was cajoled by friends into opening for Canadian folk vet Julie Doiron. Since then, she’s released three full-length albums starting with her 2007 debut Oh, My Darling. On Heart of My Own, she mostly eschews her trademark autoharp melodies and bare folk arrangements, focusing instead on her most straightforward pop songwriting to date and her bright, distinct voice; when she plays with rhythm and tone, she sounds like musical ancestors ranging from Regina Spektor to Joni Mitchell.
Jessy Lanza, Pull My Hair Back:
A Hamilton product, Lanza made waves last year when she signed with the venerable UK electronic label Hyperdub. Pull My Hair Back is her debut record, and it was largely recorded with fellow Canadian/Junior Boys member Jeremy Greenspan; it’s sinewy, grayscale R&B music that relies on the contrast between Lanza’s feathery, agile voice and the undulating beats that move beneath her. Stark, throbbing singles like “Kathy Lee” and “5785021” are at home in both the club and the bedroom, reveling in a sensual brand of minimalism that’s won Lanza plenty of admirers.
Shad, Flying Colours:
Shadrach Kabango grew up in London and later attended Laurier for business, where he won a competitive radio station talent contest and used the proceeds — a cool $17,500 — to record his debut full-length, When This Is Over. Flying Colours, his fourth album, features guests ranging from vocalists like Lisa Lobsinger and Lights to rappers like Saukrates, and finds Kabango building on the hyper-literate, conceptually ripe writing that’s become his calling card. Social justice, family history and wry self-deprecation are all fair game, softened by bold, brassy arrangements.
While Bulat, Lanza and Shad all have strong claims to this year’s Polaris prize, they’re up against a formidable slate of other entrants: Arcade Fire, Drake, Mac DeMarco, Owen Pallett, Tanya Tagaq, Timber Timbre and Yamantaka // Sonic Titan flesh out the 2014 short list.
They’ll have to sweat out a full summer of waiting, too: the prize won’t be awarded until this year’s Polaris Gala on September 22nd, which is being hosted by Canadian actor/writer Jay Baruchel in Toronto. No matter what happens, these local products have plenty of reason to be proud.
Disclosure: Jamieson is part of the large voting body, made up of writers, broadcasters and industry professionals, that determines the Polaris long list and short list each year.