1. Polaris Countdown #1 - Arcade Fire

    Wednesday, July 13, 2011


    I love this record. I loved the bits and pieces of it I listened to for a couple of months, and I loved digging into the entire beast, and then re-listening for this review. 'The Suburbs' is a concept album that documents life in suburbia almost as a fiction anthology, sharing different perspectives on a central theme. It's all there - Depression and anxiety, hope and early wonder, concern about the future, love and death - and all set against the backdrop of a half-told (metaphorical?) police-state suburban conflict.

    This is a dark record. It's not bleak or unrelenting, but the positives and possibilities are all set within the context of...unease. Arcade Fire co-founder Win Butler described 'The Suburbs' as a cross between Neil Young and Depeche mode, but I hear the paranoia of NIN's 'Year Zero' in many of the songs as well.

    I'm hard-pressed to think of a recent album that better sets a tone. The jaunty, damaged-sounding title track builds to a haunting head in 'Ready to Start', and the following off-putting 4/4 to 5/4 groove of 'Modern Man' backs off the energy without losing an inch of feel. From there, track after track of wonderful, powerful music blend into a single, incredible package. The net result is an appropriately cinematic affair that has left a lasting impact on me.

    Review score: 4/4


    Here's where it gets dicey. The Polaris Mission Statement reads:

    "Polaris recognizes and markets albums of the highest artistic integrity, without regard to musical genre, professional affiliation, or sales history."

    Under this statement, it would make perfect sense for 'The Suburbs' to take top prize, but doing so would be totally foolish - and I think no one would agree more than Arcade Fire. The two biggest things an artist receives upon winning the Polaris are $20,000* and lots of (particularly Canadian) exposure. For some bands, both of these are a big deal. In a post-win interview, Karkwa stated that they would use their money to finally hire a tour manager (!). It was also big publicity for a Francophone band to be recognized all across Canada as having an awesome album.

    In the case of Arcade Fire though, they really do not need either of the prizes. Everyone likes $20,000 - but Arcade Fire is a large, commercially successful act with an established reputation. They certainly aren't household names the world over, but if the top 2010 Grammy win didn't increase awareness of them, the Polaris Prize certainly will not.

    As such, giving the prize to Arcade Fire might affirm the credibility of the Polaris Mission Statement, but it would strike me as a failure for Canadian music overall. Historically, Polaris Jury members would seem to agree with me on this one, passing over major artists like Broken Social Scene and Metric for smaller, less established acts. This logical, but weird setup perhaps makes The Suburbs simultaneously the most deserving (artistically), and least likely album on this list.

    Likelihood Score: 1/4

    Next up - Austra!

    *Apparently, the prize was upped to $30,000 this year, but I think my argument still holds.

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