Voting starts for this year’s Polaris Prize tomorrow and after much humming and hawing (and precious little payola), I’ve narrowed down my list to the Top Five.
A couple of records fought hard for inclusion – and I hope they make it through so I can vote for them in Round Two – but at the end of the day, the following records really hit me the hardest over and meant the most to me in the last twelve months. Are they the most recognizable LPs? Most certainly not, but herohill and Polaris are both built upon a naive, Utopic perfectly level playing field and in my mind, these records deserve the chance to slug it out with the big boys.
“Jimmie’s still Jimmie.” Joel documented that obvious fact in song and Jim’s latest long player certainly plays to his tried and true strengths. He’s still ripping through crunchy rock nuggets, filled with honest admissions and a wit so dry it could be placed on the shelf next to your finest bottle of Vermouth. The thing is, Transistor Sister, feels like the record Jim has been trying to make for years. Life, love, laughs and loss all acting as the wet stone needs to sharpen his blade. Looking back with fondness is an embellished skill we all have in spades, but Jim looks back with the accuracy of a fact checker and is more concerned with where he is now and what’s next.
4) Pat Jordache – Future Songs
When I first heard this record, it was in a broken state. A shitty rip, the last reminder of the hard work Pat had put into his solo project over the last few years. It was stark and ragged, but smooth and beautiful. Thankfully, good fortune eventually smiled on the young MTL experimentalist; Constellation Records loved what they had heard, and he found a lost version of the record that they were able to remaster. Fully developed and leveled, Future Songs is still immediate and infectious, but now it’s finally backed by the sonic force Pat’s emotional, rolling baritone voice deserves.
3) Doug Paisley – Constant Companion
Probably the most appropriate LP title of all-time. Paisley’s voice, his arrangements and his comforting sadness all make this record one I’ll hold close forever. I’ve heard huge names thrown around when discussing Doug (James Taylor is one that should help you judge the bar height), but his unique ability to warm the saddest thoughts and honey coat the heartbreak deserves to be judged on its own merits. With a re-release on Maple, I’m hoping this underground TO legend finally gets heard by a bigger or audience… or at least comes to Halifax for a show.
2) Dirty Beaches – Badlands
Talk about knocking me on my ass. Alex has been making music under the Dirty Beaches moniker for years but never did I expect a delightfully dark collage of feedback, tape-hiss and charismatic Elvis croons. The wash of sound consumes you, offering the slightest hint of sunshine before Alex takes you to the darkest parts of his soul. Alex moves between dark noise experiments, ominous yelps and touching crooning over this all-too-brief LP, but maintains cohesiveness by filtering each song through his own unique lens.
I refuse to lump him into the lo-fi movement that is dominating indie-rock, because like a chef deconstructing recipes, Alex removes any unnecessary note, layer or effect ensuring only the sounds he wants you to hear are showcased. In lesser hands, echo-heavy riffs and droning sound experiments might sound a little one-note, but with tape-noise and a complete understanding of the sounds he wants to incorporate, he adds nuance and depth to each composition. Cinematic in inspiration and delivery, Badlands tells a story framed by muscle cars and greased out pomps, but a story that affects you deeply.
1) Frederick Squire – March 12
Polaris 2011. Polaris 2010. Polaris 2012. It wouldn’t matter what year you asked me about March 12. This record is not only my favorite of the year, it’s one of my favorite records of all-time. It touches you on some many levels. It makes you hope. It makes you cry. Rather than rehash the emotion that made me put pen to paper, I’ll just post the review I wrote, one that I feel proud to have written.
“Then I read Scott Bryson’s review of March 12 and even though he too loved the record, his words glossed over so much of what makes March 12 essential and largely ignores the effort Fred goes to forge a connection with the listener. Admittedly, it’s easy to gloss over the details; Fred’s a dying breed of musician writing songs for a type of music lover bordering on extinction. “The Future Of Tradition” – originally called “Frankie & Albert” and one of the best songs I’ve heard in years – is a song that demands the attention of an audience unconcerned with iPhones and text messaging, one that doesn’t need 15 people banging on synths, hand percussion or gimmicks. Inspired by “The Gambler and His Bride” (a song he, Daniel & Julie reworked on their fantastic folk record), Fred transports anyone that will listen to the prison floor and delivers a narrative of a loving husband comforting the women that killed him as she waits to hang. It’s gripping; the type of song that should stop you in your tracks provided the bar would just stop talking long enough for you to hear the hushed, inspirational words.
March 12 is full of some of the most beautiful, genuinely sad songs I’ve ever heard. The songs hit on emotions and fears so real that Fred just can’t turn and tell someone, so he writes songs to tell everyone. The songs are grown from women and the drink, but they aren’t songs about booze and broken hearts. Fred isn’t scared she might not come back. He’s terrified that love itself is the problem and he might fucking die alone. He isn’t staring at the bottom of the bottle to numb the pain, he’s drinking because if he stops he has to stare himself in the mirror and make the changes that seem as impossible as moving a mountain with his own two hands.
When you are left questioning where you fit in the world, fixated on the power of God and the certainty of death, true genius comes out. The loner gospel “It is in the Water” is built on plaintive strums, spot on harmonies and well placed distorted backing electric, but despite it’s sound, It’s in the Water (and the beautiful piano/acoustic “You Sing Low And We Will Sing High”) isn’t a song about salvation. He’s not looking up, praying for an answer that may never come, but he certainly knows the world is bigger than the two blocks of the seven block town he calls home. He’s lived his life, comfortable with the decisions and now seems content to wait for the final curtain call. That realization is as sad as anything on the record, but that transparent look into a broken man is exactly what’s missing from almost every artist making music today and what makes March 12 so important.”
To celebrate these artists, we have a pretty cool contest. You can win a record from each of the Top 5 and a couple extra special treats to sweeten the pot. All you have to do is leave your contact info in the comments section or send us an email (herohill AT gmail DOT COM) and keep the fingers crossed. One LUCKY winner will receive:
A download of Frederick Squire March 12 A physical copy of Shotgun Jimmie Transistor Sister A physical copy of Dirty Beaches Badlands A physical copy of Doug Paisley Constant Companion A Doug Paisley tea towel and tote bag A download of Pat Jordache Future Songs