Downie, Feist and Tagaq: Five things about the Polaris Music Prize short list

Downie, Feist and Tagaq: Five things about the Polaris Music Prize short list

TORONTO — An array of mainstream artists, Indigenous acts and rising stars comprise this year’s slate of Polaris Music Prize nominees.

Among the 10 contenders revealed Thursday for the $50,000 award, which goes to the best album from a Canadian artist or band, are Gord Downie’s “Secret Path” project, Leonard Cohen’s final studio effort ”You Want It Darker” and Feist’s “Pleasure.”

The Polaris winner is chosen by a large team of journalists, broadcasters and bloggers, irrespective of genre or sales. The winner will be announced on Sept. 18 at a gala presentation held at Toronto’s Carlu. A webcast will be hosted by CBC Music and Aux.tv.

Here’s a look at several themes that emerged from the nominees:

INDIGENOUS VOICES: Fresh conversations were sparked in the past year over Canada’s historic mistreatment of Indigenous people and the Polaris short list includes an eclectic group of artists giving voice to the issues. Downie’s “Secret Path” interprets the true story of Chanie Wenjack, a young boy who died while trying to escape a residential school, while A Tribe Called Red’s pulsing “We Are The Halluci Nation” carries an vibrant political edge from the moment it gets underway.

TAGAQ’S RETURN: Then there’s Tanya Tagaq, the outspoken throat singer from Nunavut who wound up taking home the 2014 Polaris accolade for “Animism.” Among the standout tracks on “Retribution” is album closer ”Rape Me,” a cover of the Nirvana song with a haunting tension set against the context of the abuse and murder of Indigenous women.

DIVERSE WOMEN: While the Juno Awards ran into criticism over the lack of female voices among its nominees earlier this year, the Polaris jury has covered a lot of territory with its selections. Lisa LeBlanc is a singer-songwriter who uses her banjo as the centrepiece on “Why You Wanna Leave, Runaway Queen?” while Colombian immigrant Lido Pimienta uses her Spanish album “La Papessa” — or “high priestess” — as a soapbox for issues like the global water crisis and patriarchy. Female-led indie pop band Weaves strives for esthetic originality on their self-titled debut.

NEW AWARENESS: Win or lose, several lesser-known musicians are likely to get a boost from the Polaris clout. Electronic-jazz quartet Badbadnotgood (also shortlisted in 2015 for “Sour Soul,” a collaboration with rapper Ghostface Killah) is in consideration for their fourth album “IV,” which features a track with last year’s Polaris winner Kaytranada. Leif Vollebekk’s “Twin Solitude,” which was released in February, is also due to get a second wind as new listeners are introduced the album’s folksy isolation that channels Nick Drake and the softest side of Van Morrison.

MARQUEE MISSES: Albums from global superstars Drake and the Weeknd were both selected for the long list unveiled last month — but neither made the final cut. Other prominent acts whose albums were left off the final list include Arkells, Carly Rae Jepsen, Japandroids, Mac DeMarco, the New Pornographers, and the Tragically Hip.

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