Polaris Ballot (Part 2)

OK it’s time for part 2. I’ve had some time to digest some of the titles on my must-listen list but more on those later.

Jay Crocker – Below the Ocean Over

I consider this an extremely strong outing from Jay. In some places it’s much more reserved and focused than Melodies from the Outskirts ; elsewhere it manages to be that much more ambitious and experimental. It’s a record that I can throw on any time with a jaunty jazz pace that rarely lets you come up for air. I think my favourite moment is during The Delicious an excellent driving instrumental that unapolagetically showcases the talents of the whole band.

Julie Doiron – I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day

I’m going to save most of my words regarding Julie for a story I’m writing for our June 11 issue but I think it’s safe to say this is one of my favourite records of the year. It strikes a nice balance between sludgy distorted riffs on songs like Heavy Snow and light-hearted strummers like Nice to Come Home. Much ink has been spent discussing how this is Julie’s "happy" album but I find it explores more than a few bleak depressing themes especially on the deeply jaded (and awesome) Consolation Prize.

One Hundred Dollars – Forest of Tears

This one came right out of left field for me as recommended by a handful of other critics on the jury. Built around the ample vocal chops of Simone Schmidt this Toronto band churns out (to cop a phrase from CKUA) wide-cut country. And while the music is solid the true focal point has to be the lyrics which offer a blunt classic country & western take on deeply personal modern themes.

Quest for Fire – Quest for Fire

I can’t say enough good things about this band which takes in former members from Cursed and the Deadly Snakes. As far as I’m concerned this is the stoner rock record of the year. From start to finish they alternate between relentlessly pounding riffs and relatively quiet reflective slow burns. I don’t even need to glance at my played counts to tell you I’ve Been Trying to Leave is perched at the top of my list among individual songs for the year and Next to the Fire which closes the record with an appropriately huge bang isn’t far behind. Last year I canvassed furiously for the Ladyhawk record and it was a disappointing omission from the Long List; this year I anticipate Quest for Fire will suffer the same fate but that won’t stop me from giving it a shot.

Rae Spoon – Superioryouareinferior

Both musically and thematically Rae’s record is one of the most important of the year. Far from evasive about his unique situation his website boasts that he is "one of the world’s only transgender country singers." This factors prominently throughout Superioryouareinferior which juxtaposes his deceptively high-pitched vocals with a viewpoint that is unquestionably male.

As he points out explicitly in Off the Grid Underground Rae grew up in Calgary faced with the challenge of being queer. For someone like me who grew up here as well largely oblivious to that subculture and probably many others it has inspired no small amount of introspection. After a great many listens I don’t know whether I’ll ever shake the image of the Calgary Tower as a "giant fist." Figuratively speaking it takes some big cojones to tackle issues of this magnitude and this record shows that Rae is well-equipped. If that doesn’t warrant some Polaris love I don’t know what does.

Women – Women

Ah Women. Critical darlings of the indie world. I remember the first time my friends and I heard the brothers Flegel were brewing a new musical project we joked that it would be "Veritas Mark 2" a follow-up to their early-2000s prog-metal outfit. Little did we know Women would strike it so huge and so fast. At first I found the record abraisive and a bit too sloppy but over time I’ve come to appreciate it as a cheeky masterpiece littered with countless sly nods. And while I can’t say January 8th or Woodbine will go down as my favourite tracks of the year they serve an important conceptual purpose erecting walls of noise between brilliant songs like Sag Harbor Bridge or Shaking Hands that demonstrate a knack for coming up with complex musical and rhythmic patterns and playing the hell out of them.

Oh and for all those ham-handed writers who limped out tired hooks about how hard it is to search the internet for a band called WOMEN well… how does hit #2 sound?