The Polaris Prize Long List is here, including 40 of Canada’s finest artists and their albums. The amount of talent is overwhelming, but it means even more music to dive into this summer! We hand-picked 10 of the albums we’ve enjoyed this past year along with a short synopsis of each. You can see the full list of Polaris Music Prize nominees here.
- Anachnid – Dreamweaver (2020)
Anachnid bends and blends genres on her debut album, Dreamweaver. The album will take you from dreamy instrumentals to dark trap beats to folky guitars, but the common thread is Anachnid’s soothing, soulful voice. She draws on her Ojibwe-Cree and Mi’gmaq heritage throughout this album, hence the name, Anachnid, which represents her totem animal, the spider. The emphasis on nature and heritage continues on tracks like “Animism”, “Summer Hunting” and “Sky Woman,” which is the translation of her birth name. The Sky Woman is a concept she further unpacks on the track, “Anachnid.”
- Kaytranada – BUBBA (2019)
Producer and DJ, Kaytranada is known for gifting the music world with vibey drum-based hip hop and dance hall beats with an alternative, synth-based flare. And the same can be said for his second studio album, BUBBA. It’s full of collaborations with artists like Kali Uchis on “10%”, Pharrell on “Midsection” and Goldlink on “Vex Oh” among many others. While it has all the facets of a dance album, there is something extra special about it – the continued homage to decades past with the new and refreshing shimmer that Kaytranada has mastered. The seamless flow of BUBBA is a sonic dream come true. It invites you to get lost in the beats and the lyricism and simply move your body and chill.
- nêhiyawak – nipiy (2019)
The self-proclaimed moccasingaze group, nêhiyawak bring a unique sound to the wavy, washed out and heavily layered genre of shoegaze in their debut album, nipiy. nêhiyawak transports you to a place of chill reflection, but don’t let the calm vibe fool you because this album has a strong message. The album was inspired by the Idle No More movement and making a difference around the rights of Indigenous folks. “Nipiy” translates to water, which is a cornerstone of the band members’ upbringing through traditional teachings as bookended on the albums opening and closing tracks, “kisiskâciwanisîpiy pêyak” and “kisiskâciwanisîpiy nîso” which translates to the North Saskatchewan River. Their debut bridges these teachings with modern sounds.
- Lido Pimienta – Miss Colombia (2020)
Lido Pimienta shares in an experimental synthpop journey with Miss Colombia. Tapping into her Indigenous and Afro-Colombian roots, she paints a modern picture that stays true to tradition by employing traditional Colombian instruments and Spanish vocals. The album’s name comes from the mistaken announcement during 2015’s Miss Universe competition that Miss Colombia would take home the crown by Steve Harvey when she was actually the runner up. The album unpacks themes of racism and misogyny on tracks like “Nada” and looks at the other side of toxic and draining relationships on tracks such as, “Te Queria” and “Resisto Y Ya.” Lido Pimienta won the 2017 Polaris Prize for her album La Papessa.
- William Prince – Reliever (2020)
William Prince is as much of a narrator as he is a country-folk singer songwriter. His songs combine his vulnerability, his expert craftsmanship with his deep, soothing voice. His second studio album, Reliever is no exception. William pulls back the curtain with tunes like “Always Have What We Had” and “Leave It By The Sea” while celebrating life’s lessons in upbeat tracks like “The Gun” and “Wasted.” Prepare to shed a tear or twenty when listening to this masterpiece.
- Riit – ataataga (2019)
Riit blends electronic and pop genres with Inuktitut lyricism. Her debut album ataataga features rhythmic songs fuelled with passion through their building peaks and intense valleys. The album features traditional Inuit throat singing and the Inuktitut language, a conscious choice to preserve the language. The title track, “ataataga” and the second track “qaumajuapik” inspire hope – qaumajuapik translates to “you are shining.” ataataga is an album that offers up a space to dance, to chill and to learn.
- Andy Shauf – The Neon Skyline (2020)
Listening to Andy Shauf is like cracking open and reading a chapter book. You’ve got set scenes, recurring characters, tiny zoomed–in details and emotional range. Except instead it’s an indie-folk soundtrack that will pull you right into the pages. A few standouts on The Neon Skyline are the heartbreaking tune, “Living Room”, the moving track “Clove Cigarette” and the catchy self-reflective song, “Things I Do.” So crack open The Neon Skyline where you’ll find the familiarity of Andy’s voice with its twang and the timeless musical quality that comes with it.
- U.S. Girls – Heavy Light (2020)
U.S. Girls’ Heavy Light is the workings of front woman, Meg Remy. This is the seventh album she’s put out in her career and it is a culmination of her musical journey both as a listener and a performer. Heavy Light as the name suggests, has positive themes shaded in darkness – where there is youth, there is trauma (“The Colour of Your Childhood Bedroom”), where there is uprising, there is grief (“The Quiver to the Bomb”) and where there is success, there is the looming end (“4 American Dollars”). The list goes on. Sonically, the album is an experimental pop fantasy with jazzy moments and hooks for days.
- WHOOP-Szo – Warrior Down (2019)
WHOOP-Szo meld psychedelic rock and grunge into a hauntingly perfect album and Indigenous history lesson in Warrior Down. This album comes with a trigger warning as several songs unpack systemic and systematic racism faced by Indigenous people. Specifically, “Cut Your Hair” tells the story of front man, Andrew Sturgeon’s grandfather’s time at residential school and “Gerry” tells the story of an Indigenous man who was shot by police. “Long Braided Hair” confronts the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Although thematically heavy there are hopeful moments throughout. This is an album you are sure to revisit.
- Witch Prophet – DNA Activation (2020)
Witch Prophet presents chill, looping hip hop beats and soulful vocal hooks inspired by her Ethiopian and Eritrean roots on her latest album, DNA Activation. It’s an eclectic blend of languages where she sings in English, Amharic, and Tigrinya. She draws lyrical and sonic inspiration from her family and the biblical stories and mythologies from her upbringing. Some of the standouts include the jazzy empowering track, “Tesfay”, the powerful “Makda” and the album opener, “Musa.”
Check out the list of the other 30 albums up for a chance at winning the 2020 Polaris Prize here.
Who is your pick for Canadian Artist of the Year? Comment below.