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Quebec artists shine, rap thrives: Highlights from the Polaris Music Prize short list

Quinton Nyce, left, and Darren Metz of Snotty Nose Rez Kids pose for a photo in downtown Vancovuer, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

TORONTO — Five Quebecois music acts, whose albums span from avant-garde funk to glitchy club beats, are among the finalists for the 2019 Polaris Music Prize.

Half of this year’s 10 nominees for the $50,000 award, which honours the best album of the year irrespective of genre or sales, have either French-Canadian roots or ties to Quebec.

Among them are experimentalists Fet.Nat, electronic mixer Marie Davidson and folk-pop singer Elisapie. They represent the strongest showing of Quebecois artists at the Polaris since 2008, when Montreal-based Patrick Watson took home the honour.

Others who made the short list include pop songwriter Jessie Reyez, punk rock band Pup, and rap duo Snotty Nose Rez Kids, who lead a roster of artists from Canada’s distinct hip hop community.

The Polaris winner will be selected by an 11-member jury when it convenes Sept. 16 for a gala dinner at Toronto’s Carlu. Each runner-up receives $3,000 after the event, which will be webcast on CBC Music.

Highlights from the full list of nominees:


QUEBEC GLOWS: Trying to describe the resurgence of creativity in Quebec’s music scene is almost impossible because its sounds are so discordant.

Take for instance soulful Montreal singer-songwriter Dominique Fils-Aime, whose lush vocals weave throughout her sophomore effort “Stay Tuned!”, an album which finds its footing in political ties between the past and present. Across the aisle there’s rhythmic scientists FET.NAT of Hull, Que., with their off-kilter album “Le Mal,” which is split into two parts. The first half showcases the funkier element of the quartet, while the second lets them tinker around with reinterpretations of those songs using vintage MIDI technology.

Inuk singer Elisapie, who was born in Salluit, Que., explores tradition and the barriers of her past on “The Ballad of the Runaway Girl,” which has lyrics in English, French and Inuktitut. And Vincent Roberge’s project “La nuit est une panthere,” produced under the alias Les Louanges, plays like a trip into an interstellar space lounge that might’ve been dreamed up in his hometown of Levis, Que.

BASSLINE WIT: Pulsing beats rarely meddle with wry humour on the dancefloor, which helped Montreal producer Marie Davidson’s “Working Class Woman” stand out as a rare species on club night. Pouring sarcastic observations overtop of rave culture, Davidson’s album opens with “Your Biggest Fan” where she recounts the irritating and misogynistic comments fed to her at gigs. Her Quebecois accent is on full display in “Work It,” an industrial-level aerobics instructional fused with capitalistic tendencies, which in its final minute spins from corporate tap dance into a self-empowerment anthem.

TORTURED REBELS: Toronto-founded punk band Pup prove their fighting spirit didn’t subside after their first Polaris nod in 2016. Instead, their masochistic tendencies are on full display on “Morbid Stuff,” an explosive and self-reflective take on depression that saps energy from an apocalyptic perspective. In “Full Blown Meltdown,” lead singer Stefan Babcock shouts, “I’m losing interest in self-help; Equally bored of feeling sorry for myself.”

SOAKING UP THE REYEZ: Tearing through Canada’s music scene like a whirlwhind force, Toronto’s Jessie Reyez hasn’t just made her mark, she’s shattered expectations. The singer-songwriter climbed the charts with Calvin Harris, sang alongside Daniel Caesar, and demonstrated that even in the throes of success, she’s still as vulnerable as ever. Her seven-track EP “Being Human in Public” marks a celebration of her strength, weakness and the dreams that keep her pushing for more.

UNDERDOGS NO LONGER: Brash, confident and punching back on the status quo, this year’s rap performers take a fresh approach to reflections on community, race and politics.

Haviah Mighty, a member of all-female Toronto hip-hop act The Sorority, uses her solo album “13th Floor” to reflect on being a woman of colour in today’s society, while finding positive inspiration in her family. Snotty Nose Rez Kids, who are based in Vancouver, return with “Trapline,” the follow-up to last year’s Polaris-nominated album “The Average Savage” and a more mature reflection on being Indigenous in Canada that also pays tribute to the hip hop icons who came before them. And Shad’s concept album, “A Short Story About A War,” explores the fear generated by the global chaos of our times. It marks Shad’s fourth time being Polaris shortlisted, the most of any artist.


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David Friend, The Canadian Press