Yes, Leslie Feist did hide under her table when she was awarded the Polaris Music Prize last week. And yes, the 36-year-old Nova Scotian does deserve respect and appreciation, a pat on the back if you will. She has made a name for herself, and for Canada, around the world with her gracefully delicate and instantly recognizable coo.
Her latest album Metals retains her warm poise but it’s full of unfamiliar and new sound. She is unpredictable but never boring.
Four years after the success of “1234,” we can see a different less-chirpy side to Feist. The album is a gem from the get-go. “Graveyard” pull you in you with a binding melody and lets you go with a marvelously uplifting choir.”Comfort Me” and “How Come You Never Go There?” are minimalistic tunes, glazed with her fragile vocals. While “Bittersweet Melodies” is a more buoyant number with a hint of piano, and of course, Feist‘s velvety vocals. Metals enchants you. It’s full of nuance but as cozy and intimate as Sunday afternoons require.
However, it is still just the tiniest bit predictable that one of the bigger global names (perhaps, aside from Drake) was awarded the $30, 000. The Polaris shortlist may have given smaller nominees some recognition but I feel they deserve a little more.
Grimes is something special. Her album Visions is now celebrated around the world after a short seven months on the shelves. The 24-year-old has managed to create a completely new sound and it seems to have come completely naturally to her. The Vancouverite’s music goes above and beyond electro and pop, she goes deeper than that. It is out of the ordinary and experimental music; nothing sounds like quite the speedy, eerie, futuristic album Visions is.
Clair Boucher’s vocals resemble those of 90s superstars, and her breezy ooo-ey ahhs have even been compared to Mariah Carey. This is how “Skin” begins, along with a freakishly bone-chilling synth beat. Then all of a sudden it stops and grows to a haunting ethereal chant “and you can’t, and you can’t see the weight on my heart,” and then back to the Mariah coos. Every second is urgent and distorted, a hyperreality, like ADHD in a song. This album will take you to a different world, a world warped by echoes of 90s guilty pleasures, snappy keyboards, synth-pop, unrefined vocals, and then remixed to push musical boundaries.
Moving on to a completely different sound with Japandroids and their latest release, Celebration Rock. These two 29-year-old Vancouvrites do not sound their age, in a good way. They’ve produced eight tracks full of fierce feedback, garage-punk, charged studio sound, and it sounds like they’re having the time of their lives. These two aren’t about being perfect but about creating spirited youth anthems and playing music with your best friend…as loud as possible.
Opening track “The Night of Wine and Roses” takes off with a burst of fireworks (literally) and a background drone before amalgamating into an agitated outburst of heavy guitar, steady drums, zany vocals and crashing symbols. Things quieten down (just a notch) with “Continuous Thunder.” This one’s slow stride of thundery drums, hazy guitar and muffled vocals, and it could be considered the ballad of the album, for these guys. They are young, alive and full of energy, as if their age stirs them to play harder, to play louder and make gloriously heavy, old-school noise punk. Brian King remembers in “Younger Us,” “saying things like ‘we’ll sleep when we’re dead’ and thinking this feeling was never gonna end” and I’m sure, for these two, it won’t.
Another female artist that was in the running is Ontario Native Al Spx, better known as Cold Specks. She has appeared out of nowhere, a treasure long lost who has finally found her way to land. Her debut album I Predict a Graceful Expulsion is spellbinding. Spx sings like she has lived a lifetime. She captivates your attention with her soft, dark, leathery vocals. The band, consisting of a piano, cello, the occasional horn, and guitar, gathers substance in each song but never overpowers her placid gospel-like voice.
Each song hints at a loneliness, of being lost and this adds to the haunting, personal quality of the album. Spx has settled in London, England and you can’t help but wonder if this move has produced the elusive feelings on this record. In “Blank Maps,” Spx mutters evasively, “I am I am, I am I am a goddamn believer,” as if trying to convince herself of the fact. Yet this is a beautiful album, as elated as it is elusive. You don’t know what she believes, but you are compelled to accept.
Cadence Weapon, Drake, Kathleen Edwards, Fucked Up, Handsome Furs, and YAMANTAKA // SONIC TITAN were also nominated for the prize. Each of these artists are worthy of a listen or two, and you’ll be supporting Canadian music while you’re at it, but Grimes, Japandroids and Cold Specks are, for now, the cat’s pajamas.