The final selection for this year’s Polaris Music Prize for best Canadian album arrives this Monday, September 27. The shortlist for top Canadian album of 2021 given by a jury of over 200 Canadian music journalists, bloggers, and broadcasters from both print and digital landscapes was delivered on July 15 a month after the longlist of 40.
Precise details of how the ceremony will undergo its presentation have still yet to be announced, but in accordance to years prior (excluding 2020), shortlist nominees normally give a performance.
The Polaris Prize has arguably superseded the Junos as top officiated Canadian music honour, constituting a jury process rather than traditional awards show ballots and with the prize now sitting at $50,000. Previous winners including Haviah Mighty’s 13th Floor, Kaytranada’s 99.9%, Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, and Lido Pimienta’s La Papessa demonstrate an appreciation for crossover appeal and culturally diverse storytelling.
This year’s impressive slate is heavy in hip-hop and R&B with 8 of the 10 selections coming from Ontario. This year’s notably explosive choices with boundary pushing punk, indie prog, jazz inflected hip hop, and French lounge pop music has made predictions for a finalist difficult once again. The people at SMACK have rounded up what you should know about the artists we think should take home Canada’s highest musical honour this Monday.
The Full Nominee List:
Cadence Weapon - Parallel World
DijahSB - Head Above the Waters
Dominique Fils-Aimé - Three Little Words
Klô Pelgag - Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson - Theory of Ice
Mustafa - When Smoke Rises
The OBGMs - The Ends
The Weather Station - Ignorance
TOBi - ELEMENTS Vol. 1
Zoon - Bleached Wavves
The Skinny: After signing a distribution deal with British Sony subsidiary AWAL, DijahSB quit their job at the Apple Store, got a new manager, and started cutting organic neo-soul and hip-hop resulting in the excellent Head Above the Waters. It’s short at 24 minutes and eight songs, but highly efficient with a unifying sonic theme, a good amount of humour and lots of autobiography. Further, HABTW enlists production from Toronto beat aficionados including Cheap Limousine and MVP of this year’s Polaris, Harrison.
The Skinny: The artist formerly known as Mustafa the Poet brings us an album of inner-city folk R&B executive produced by Frank Dukes, worked on by powerhouses Jamie XX and James Blake, and featuring Moon and Sampha. Despite the Brit-fluence, When Smoke Rises is totally Toronto; it’s set in Regent Park and attributed to local rapper Smoke Dawg who was killed in broad day light on Queen and Spadina. Its sincerity caught the attention of major blogs and took Mustafa all the way to late night TV with a performance on Jimmy Fallon last May.
The Skinny: Tamara Lindeman’s prestigious jazzy indie project The Weather Station started making serious waves in 2017 with their eponymous revision after settling on a finalized lineup. Since then, Lindeman’s interest in climate change briefly superseded her musical evolution with the frontwoman making appearances at demonstrations and public discussions. Ignorance sees Lindeman taking a reinvigorated interest in the natural world and its imminent finale through its ten terrific songs with a freshened pen game and the backing of an impressive full band. If The Weather Station takes the Polaris this year it will surely make major music news; critics went crazy on its release with Pitchfork giving it a 9.0.
The Skinny: Nigerian born rapper TOBi has been somewhat of a fixture in the GTA. He grew up in Brampton, went to Wilfred Laurier to study biology and psych, and apparently battled Tory Lanez before they were both famous. Now he’s signed to RCA, holds a Juno for Rap Recording beating out Nav earlier this year, and his song “Hidden Fences” was included on the respected soundtrack for Issa Rae’s Insecure. Despite the crossover, TOBi stays firmly Toronto taking his local affiliates on posse cuts and consistently examining the city throughout his subject matter.
The “The oOohh Baby Gimme Mores” have about the best story any new band could hope for. They’re loud, they’re braggadocious, they’re Black, they’re Canadian, they make punk music, and they were pigeonholed into the urban scene for years. After agreeing to appear in a documentary short for Budweiser, they were given given the opportunity to impromptu perform for an 800+ commercial shoot, the largest audience they had seen up unto that point. They built a relationship with Budweiser and built incredible hype out of playing numerous events including Jay-Z’s curated Made in America festival.
They’re also awesome, with strong songwriting and no-nonsense production.
Choice authenticity quotes:
“We want you to like us because we’re fucking Nirvana, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. We’re out here doing different shit that you haven’t heard before. And you should love it.”
"We weren’t getting noticed," McFarlane says, "so I was like: ‘The next person who talks about bands in Toronto without referencing us, I’m going to run up on their shit and take their money! It was just about being really aggressive.