I’m not even sure if people read any of the pre-Long list pieces about Polaris anymore. With 240 people writing in their fictional ballot and ten times that ready to tell why those choices are wrong, it’s a torrent of maybes and what ifs. Basically, it’s the music nerd mock drafts, and we all saw how accurate those were this weekend.
Either way, the reason I take part in Polaris every year is that for a brief moment - the 30 minutes or so it takes to announce the 40 albums that end up on the Long List - I truly feel my voice is heard and my passion felt. Most of my choices are long shots, underdogs that connected with me and became a part of my life. I get the chance to pitch my thoughts to the other jury members and hope that what I feel are is the best music, ultimately wins out in the end. For every Metric vote, there is equal chance to see Mark Davis on a ballot, and that is amazing.
I think this year is a weak year and the lack of big name releases actually levels the playing field. There’s more chance for relatively unknowns to sneak into the final equation and I for one, couldn’t be happier. Right now, my ballot is 80% locked in, and the fight for fifth is as heated as the kumate. Why am I sharing them now? Pageviews! Just kidding (sort of). These are records I truly believe in, and hopefully this post might be the nudge another juror needs to listen for the first time or revisit the records and give them all a second chance.
My top four:
1) Evening Hymns - Spectral Dusk (review)
This record is one I will hold close until my memories become twisted maps of unconnected synapses. Spectral Dusk is a touching, starkly honest documentation detailing Jonas’ suffering as he watched his father grow weaker and pass away and it’s become a compass of sorts for me. But this record isn’t a funeral - although it is heartbreak at times - but a celebration of life. It’s hopeful, triumphant and represents the type of closure I hope to have with my own father.
Musically, this is not just acoustic strums and heartfelt lyrics. There is torment, noise, beauty and electronics. This record is real life, and struggling with a situation that has no possible winning outcome, Sure, this is a goodbye, but it’s also a gift.
2) Jim Guthrie - Takes Time (review)
This record is the result of painstaking experimentation and rework, but the results are often as light as air. These songs, they are asking us to keep going. To believe in our own worth and know we can be happy. To say this is a singer songwriter record is like saying a Boston creme is just a donut. Some things are only limited by the description and the layers of electronics, percussion, strings, harmonies and acoustic Jim compiles help make Takes Time one of the most optimistic records of 2013.
3) Hayden - Us Alone (review)
Growing old is terrifying. Weddings become funerals and every time the phone rings past 10 o’clock, you fear the worst. Hayden’s latest record encapsulates our fears, joys and uncertainty we are asked to deal with as we age. Hayden uses the compact nature of Us Alone to document the rocky road of parenthood and the complete lack of control and ushers dad-rock into a new, much more meaningful era. The fact it’s punchy and as hooky as this veteran grunger has ever been is just another plus.
4) Godspeed! You Black Emperor - Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (review)
This record is in complete contrast to the others on my list. The first three are humble, understated affairs. GYBE’s latest is massive and bold. This LP valiantly reclaims the creative process. Launched with no fanfare, with beautiful but ultimately unfriendly packaging, the Montreal noise makers are demanding your attention and reminding everyone that creativity doesn’t need to follow equations and timlines. They are making you focus on listening and devouring the melodies they offer up instead of letting you listen with half an ear. This isn’t background noise, it’s a meticulous collection of textures that should be treated like great literature. Sure, the initial experience is rewarding, but these songs are revealed fully with subsequent listens.
The fight for fifth is going to be tough. Names like Jenn Grant, Mike Feuerstack, Gabriel Minnikin, More or Les, Donovan Woods and Leif Vollebekk all deserve to be included and hopefully the ones that don’t make my ballot make others and get the recognition.