Handicapping Tonight’s Polaris Music Prize

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the Polaris Music Prize in my six years’ of involvement it’s that you can never predict who’s going to win.

As I write this, eleven men and women good and true have been sequestered in a secret location, tasked with awesome responsibility of declaring which of the ten albums on the 2011 Short List should be named the best Canadian album of the last year.  

And here’s the important bit:  the nominees must be judged soley on their artistic merit.  Commercial success, popularity and genre have nothing to do with it.  Which album is a piece of art that should be elevated above all?

Although I’m a member of the Polaris crew–my votes helped determine both the Long List and the Short List–I have nothing to do with this final bit of arguing.  But like everyone else interested in Polaris, I have some opinions and guesses.

Let’s try and handicap things, shall we?

1.  Arcade Fire:  The Suburbs

By all accounts, this should be the favourite.  Since its release on August 4, 2010, it’s done nothing but collect accolades, #1 chart positons and awards, including a Grammy-Juno-Brit trifecta.  As fellow Polaris voter Ben Rayner correctly points out in the Toronto Star, the jurors face a real conundrum around this record.  If they win, this will be the first time in Polaris history that the grand jury agrees with mainstream tastes. If that happens, expect much whinging about Polaris caving in to popular pressure and that “Arcade Fire doesn’t need the money” (the winner gets a $30,000 cash prize).  

Really, though, that argument will ring hollow because a truly great album is a truly great album, regardless of how many people buy it or how many mainstream awards it receives.  The Suburbs is the strongest album of the ten and deserves to win.  But if the jury gets split, another album could sneak in behind to capture the flag.

Odds of winning:  3-1


2.  Austra:  Feel It Break

As much as I like The Suburbs and feels that the Arcade Fire deserves to win, I have a thing for this record.  There’s some lovely modern sexy and slinky electronica here.  In another year–one without The Suburbs in the running–this record would stand an excellent chances of winning.  Then again, what if the jury decides that the Arcade Fire has had enough accolades for one year?

Odds:  5-1


3.  The Weeknd:  House of Balloons

An album given away for free on the Short List?  Yes.  The mystery surrounding singer Abel Tesfaye had bloggers freaking out ever since the record came out last December.  As with Austra, House of Balloons would have been a serious championship contender in a year without The Suburbs.  Still, I’ve got this nagging feeling…

Odds:  5-1


4.  Galaxie:  Tigre et diesel

A fine record, but don’t expect the same kind of come-from-the-underdog position we say with Karkwa last year.  It might make it through the first round of jury voting, but it won’t stand up to a second round.

Odds:  10-1


5.  Hey Rosetta:  Seeds

At another time, this previously-nominated group might have a dark horse’s chance of surprising everyone.  Not this time, though.

Odds:  11-1


6.  Ron Sexsmith:  Long Player Late Bloomer

The forever critically-acclaimed Sexsmith will be disappointed once again.  Although his songcraft remains as solid as ever, all one has to do is play this album immediately after listening to The Suburbs, Feel It Break and House of Balloons.  Pass.

Odds:  15-1


7.  Braids:  Native Speaker

I still pull out this album and play it in its entirety, but I have a nagging feeling that these people can do better.  Next album.

Odds:  17-1


8.  Destroyer:  Kaputt

People tell me this is a very good album.  No offense to anyone involved, but I just don’t get it.

Odds:  25-1


9.  Timber Timbre:  Creep on Creepin’ On

Nice, but pales against the competition.

Odds:  35-1


10.  Colin Stetson:  New History Warfare Vol. 2:  Judges

Wonderfully avant-garde and a terrific placing for such an experimental album from a jazz saxophonist. But the best Canadian album of the year?  No.

Odds 100-1


The Polaris event will be held at the Masonic Temple in Toronto tonight with a live broadcast on CBC Radio 3 and on their SiriusXM channel beginning at 8pm EDT.  MuchMusic will run video of the event on Friday.

To read more about tonight’s Polaris Music Prize, go here.  And to listen to the albums involved, go here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37848 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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