feist winning the 2012 polaris music prize for metals

I’ll be the first to admit I was definitely surprised to see Feist take it this year. It’s not that I thought she didn’t deserve it, I just didn’t expect the jury to choose another big star award winner for the second year in a row, especially after all the backlash last year when Arcade Fire won.

I missed the first 40 minutes of the broadcast in favor of finally replenishing my fridge with food, which means I missed out on what was apparently the best speech of the night, given by Alexei Perry of Handsome Furs:

Some people here will know how hard this is for me, but I’m also very, very proud. So I’m here to say thank you on behalf of Handsome Furs, for Dan and I, for letting us risk ourselves in pursuit of our ideals. It is worth it. And I am honoured to be in a room full of other people who also take those risks, because for me, time and time again — especially currently — it is art and music and literature that has saved my life. So I’m honoured that you loved us and our work.

I didn’t hear her say it, but just reading it makes me sad for her. You know she doesn’t want that band, or that marriage, to be over. There is no greater truth than the power that art, music and literature have to save our lives in the face of great loss.

If an ‘electro’ artist had to win, I was hoping it would be them, as Sound Kapital has more lyrical substance (and is just much more listenable) than Grimes and Yamataka Sonic Titan combined, but I also know they only made the short list because everyone hoped it would get them to perform live together one last time. No such luck. Their last (much more interesting) album didn’t even make the long list.

I also missed hardcore punk rock opera psychos Fucked Up perform, and I can’t say I’m sad about that. You may have noticed that I can’t stomach music that involves heavy screaming, even if it comes from the vocal chords of someone as awesome as Damian Abraham. That’s not to say I didn’t respect what they were trying to do with David Comes To Life, and see it’s place on the short list as incredibly deserved – it’s just not my genre. I very much enjoy their purely instrumental tracks. Of course, it was no surprise they didn’t win as they won just a few years ago for The Chemistry of Common Life.

When I did tune in, Cold Specks was already on, which brings new meaning to the phrase “perfect timing.” She was my sole choice for the win, as, out of the 10 albums that made the cut, Al Spx made the only album that affected me in any real tangible way with I Predict A Graceful Expulsion. She is also my favorite discovery of the past year, so I really wanted her to get that extra push that winning a prize like this can give an artist.

In my mind this race was really between her and Grimes (to my dismay) as I truly thought it would go to a new artist this year. I guess I was hoping they would finally break the trend of never choosing a debut album for the prize, since my heart almost always remains with the first album of every great artist. I have always believed in that sophomore slump idea that an artist spends the first 20 or more years of their life writing their first album, only to spend 2 or 3 writing the followups.

Her performance was the easy highlight of the night for me, and if you were following the #polaris2012 hashtag, it was reassuring to see so many people who had never heard of Cold Specks tweeting about how blown away they were by her after watching her play. Maybe the album is a little green in its use of chord progression, and I have no doubt that she still has so much more to bring to the table, but it is easily my favorite Canadian album of the year by a mile.

 After that, Alan Cross came out to talk about Japandroids, who couldn’t attend the gala as they are on tour in Germany. Celebration Rock was another album I would have been fine with winning, though a straight up rock record never seems to take these awards, so it seemed incredibly unlikely. Cross made a great point about Canada leading the way in 2 piece bands because of geography, that it’s incredibly expensive to tour around a country as large as ours, so it makes sense to keep the band light.

Cadence Weapon performed at this point, and I guess I can be thankful it was him and not Drake, but it was still an underwhelming performance, to say the least. He did give a shout out to his grandma, mom and sisters, who he brought with him, which was incredibly endearing.

Kathleen Edwards performed next, and while the Polaris Salon I attended last week made it sound like she didn’t deserve a spot on the list (one juror made a slightly condescending point about how Toronto is so over her but the rest of Canada loves that kind of music, and Polaris includes jurors from every part of the country) I thought her performance made it very clear she deserved to be there. I may not have loved Voyageur, but I’ll admit I didn’t give it enough of a chance, and hearing her perform just one song made me want to revisit it again.  Lyrically, she is probably the standout artist in the top 10, which is vital in my opinion.

She also seemed as aware as the Toronto jurors were that she wasn’t going to win, ostensibly giving her acceptance speech after her performance. The terrible live stream cut out for the 20th time on me at this point, so all I caught was “Last time I was nominated, I fuckin lost.” Apparently it was a good speech about how losing to Caribou made her discover bands like Caribou for the first time.

Seeing Grimes perform after Kathleen’s beautiful song was a major buzzkill. I get that the indie world LOVES her – and that I can not get into what she does has always made me feel like I’m missing something – but her performance at the gala only confirmed that her music is just not for me. Watching her dressed up like a neon anime doll or something, with a strange male pole dancer that I can only assume was brought in by her people (she noted she only met him 10 minutes before they took the stage) to distract from the very boring performance, made me slightly embarrassed for her. I can see why her atmospheric music appeals to so many, but to me she is the exact opposite of Cold Specks.

Both 23 year old first time nominees with their debut album, Al comes off as raw and real, engaging in a personal truth, bearing her soul – while Claire feels incredibly calculated and gimmicky. Some call me a purist with my music taste – and that could be where my bias comes in – but I can get behind manufactured sound so long as the emotion behind it feels genuine (I love Robyn, for example). Grimes’ lyrics are indecipherable (which could also be my problem) and nothing about the noise she makes with that soundboard feels genuine to me. She even swore when she missed a couple notes during the performance… everything about it felt amateur, like watching an awkward high school talent show.

Yamantaka Sonic Titan came next, and although their style of music is far removed from my taste, one of the best things about Polaris is its ability to bring attention to artists like these guys. It was hilarious to see some people tweeting, completely confused by what they were witnessing with the one-two punch of Grimes followed by YTST. Dressed in their own style of KISS makeup likely made it hard for someone new to take them seriously, but on the whole, I thought YTST deserved the recognition. While it’s sprawling and lacks cohesion, there really isn’t an album out there that sounds like it. It’s not something I can listen to regularly, but between the two atmospheric/weird records, I much preferred what they were aiming for over what Grimes produced.

The worst part of the night came when RapCity host T Rex Edwards introduced Drake’s Take Care. Drake of course, was not in attendence, because, for all he harps on about being Canadian, he lives in LA, and didn’t even give a reason for not attending – but if he did, it would probably reference the fact that the measly $30,000 prize couldn’t even pay for what he spends in a night with his crew – as brilliantly pointed out by Grand Juror Radio Free Canuckistan – who in that post says everything I feel about how incredibly awful Drake is, and what a joke it is that he made it to the top 10. The guy can’t sing, and he can’t rap. His shit is painfully auto-tuned and his lyrics are achingly terrible:

I think I’m addicted to naked pictures and sittin’ talking about bitches that we almost had / I don’t think I’m conscious of making monsters out of the women I sponsor until it all goes bad / but it’s all good / We threw a party, yeah we threw a party / bitches came over, yeah we threw a party / I was just calling because they were just leaving / talk to me please… / I’ve had sex four times this week, just sayin’ / I’m having a hard time adjusting to fame.

T Rex didn’t even touch on the actual album, he just made an argument that it’s time a rap album should win the prize. The odd rap he awkwardly read off his iPhone started out terribly, with him literally rhyming Nickelback with “nickel back” and it only got more embarrassing from there.

Finally, the performances came to an end with Feist, and as always, she reminded us of exactly why we love her so much. Metals is certainly not my favorite Feist album, but like Edwards, I think I never truly gave it the time it needed to unfold. It is challenging and different from her other albums and initially came off too sleepy for me, but each time I’ve seen her perform any song from it live, I’m transfixed. “The Bad In Each Other” is a definitive break up song, and her performance of that track alone shows why no one should be upset that she won. It was a mark of her character that she brought up Snowblink and ArourA for this performance, and made sure to highlight them when she had her moment to talk after her songs.

Sure I would have loved for Cold Specks to win, but if she didn’t win it, I was glad to see the prize go to a fellow A&C artist for the first time, and a LADY at that! I had no doubt they would finally give it to a woman this year, as the best albums on the short list were all made by females.