Decisions, Decisions

14 09 2010

Over the past month, my “to listen to” record pile has been growing rapidly. It’s not just because of the September influx of new records and touring bands; it’s because I’ve been spending all my time listening to the same 10 records over and over. Instead of new offerings from the Meligrove Band and Luke Doucet, it’s the Acadian choruses of Radio Radio’s Belmundo Regal repeating in my head, despite the fact my Anglo ass can only understand every fifth word. Same goes for the catchy hooks on Tegan and Sara’s Sainthood. It’s not that I’ve become some sort of Sadies sadist, either; it’s just that their album Darker Circles, along with nine others (including the two aforementioned records) are on the Short List for the 2010 Polaris Music Prize—and I, along with 10 of my colleagues from across Canada, have been tapped to figure out which of these albums will win $20,000 for being the best Canadian album of the year.

I've been spending a lot of time with these 10 records lately...

For those unfamiliar with it, the Polaris Prize was founded by Steve Jordan in 2006—and although only in its fifth year, it’s become an important part of the Canadian musical landscape. According to their press, it’s “not-for-profit organization that annually honours, celebrates and rewards creativity and diversity in Canadian recorded music by recognizing and marketing the albums of the highest artistic integrity, without regard to musical genre, professional affiliation, or sales history, as judged by a panel of selected music critics.” Since last year, I’ve been on that panel, along with nearly 200 other writers, broadcasters and bloggers. There’s a mailing list for all of us to suggest albums and discuss the pros and cons of the Canadian musical offerings of the year, and then we each submit our top five records (released between June 1, 2009 and May 31, 2010 for this year’s prize).  The folks at Polaris HQ tally up our votes and from that comes a long list of 40 albums. Then we vote again, but this time can only choose our top five from said 40 albums.  There’s more furious counting and—voila!—the short list of 10 albums emerges. This year’s is The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night, Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record, Caribou – Swim, Karkwa – Les Chemins De Verre, Dan Mangan – Nice, Nice, Very Nice, Owen Pallett – Heartland, Radio Radio – Belmundo Regal, The Sadies – Darker Circles, Shad – TSOL and Tegan And Sara – Sainthood.

This is the part where the grand jury comes in. Instead of just getting everyone to vote again, Polaris organizers select an 11-person grand jury from the larger pool, who meet in Toronto to deliberate/argue/roshambo over which of the top 10 deserves the $20,000 prize money on September 20. Care is taken to ensure the jury isn’t stacked—i.e., three people who voted for one of the top 10 albums as their first choice aren’t all on there—and no one can serve on the jury more than once.

I have to say, I’m pretty chuffed to have been asked to be a part of this year’s grand jury. I know it’s mostly because of my unabashed love for Caribou’s Swim (which I have shouted from the rooftops) and Polaris organizers wanting to ensure the jury is balanced (I imagine each of the 10 records will have a champion on the jury), but it’s still pretty exciting. It also feels like a huge responsibility, almost like I all of a sudden have a huge exam I have to write—and therefore, I have been cramming like crazy.

Writing at the office, it’s the Polaris Short List on my headphones. When I go for a walk, it’s the playlist that’s on my mp3 player. In the car, I’ve got the albums on repeat. I just went on a 7,000 km road trip to the Yukon and back. Guess what we listened to most of the way, much to my husband’s chagrin? (His taste leans more towards the KMFDM or Skinny Puppy discography, but he admittedly got pretty hooked on Shad’s TSOL, the T&S album and the Radio Radio disc.)

A week today, I’ll be in Toronto helping to decide who takes home this year’s award. I’m going to do a bit of blogging about my experience and thought process here, so stay tuned.

—Amanda

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