Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Close To Paradise

Well I certainly wasn’t expecting THAT outcome at the Polaris Music Prize gala last night.

A year after reaching into left field to declare Final Fantasy’s He Poos Clouds the winner of the inaugural prize, the grand jury reached even farther into left field to name Montreal’s Patrick Watson and his album Close To Paradise as Polaris champion for 2007. I’m actually not in a position to comment on whether Watson is a deserving winner or not because he was one of just two finalists whose work I am completely unfamiliar with – his two-song performance to open up the night’s ceremony was the first I’d heard of him and from that, I have to say I wasn’t especially overwhelmed.

Actually none of the performances had the same eye-opening effect that Final Fantasy’s did last year when you couldn’t help but wish that the grand jury could have seen him play as that would have settled all discussion right then and there. Which isn’t to say they weren’t good – they were all decent and made a case for why their albums had been nominated – but weren’t revelatory. The Besnard Lakes were certainly the loudest act and Julie Doiron the most jubilant – she seemed absolutely thrilled to be playing with her Eric’s Trip bandmates again. The Joel Plaskett Emergency delivered a raucous set and Chad VanGaalen opted not to play a selection from his nominated Skelliconnection but instead to unveil new material, including one song that sounded like he was channeling Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Miracle Fortress, who I was rooting for, closed the show out with a set that was in some ways better than the last time I saw them back in June but in other ways, still not nearly as tight or polished as the other performers. They did, however, have the best songs. Hands down. My hands, anyway.

The host for this year was Grant Lawrence from CBC Radio 3 and he was a huge improvement from Jian Ghomeshi last year. Simultaneously more succinct and still funnier, he kept things moving well though Ghomeshi still turned up to introduce The Besnard Lakes in monumentally long-winded fashion. Dave Bookman from CFNY was also a return presenter from 2006 and again proved he has no shame by singing an introduction for Julie Doiron to the tune of “California Girls” (he did the same thing for The New Pornographers last year, also cringe-worthy). But on the whole the evening went quickly and smoothly and was entertaining, even from the cheap seats (read: balcony) where I was again relegated. The production values of the event were far superior as well, with a much nicer and fancier stage setup at The Phoenix and – I think – better hors d’oeurves. Though we only got one drink ticket instead of two this time. Boo.

But back to Patrick Watson. After getting back from the ceremony, I’ve listened to the album (conveniently streaming at Spinner.com this week – link below – though as far as I can tell it’s already been released in the US) and am still at a loss as to how it was decided that this record was better than the other ten. Not to say that it’s bad at all, especially if you like the idea of hearing Jeff Buckley fronting a jazzier Coldplay, but I sincerely believe the Feist record or Five Roses from Watson’s labelmates in Miracle Fortress are far superior. But hey, I wasn’t in the grand jury room, I was in the balcony gnarfing down cheese and this is how it played out so congratulations to Watson, who was excited about the win because a) it allowed him to trash talk the Besnard Lakes (affectionately, I assume) and b) pay off a $16,000 bill they’d apparently just gotten for wrecking a rental van. So very rock. What was interesting was that the jury reached a decision far sooner than I expected – some predicted a hung jury, if possible, since no one could read any of the jurors’ particular biases. I guess they were all digging on Patrick Watson.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s Polaris as the 2007-2008 nomination period looks to have a lot of stellar releases that it’s going to be a challenge to have to sort out for my five picks, and not in the “I only own three qualifying albums” way that it’s been in the past. But that’s not till next May – let’s round up some other reactions to the win from Canadian Press (in which Pallett tackles the “they don’t need the money” elephant head on), Pitchfork, The Toronto Star and Drowned In Sound and I’ll add more response and reaction as the day creeps on and people shake off their after-party hangovers. Update: More from Stereogum, Radio Free Canuckistan (a fun, insider-y look at the event. Part two forthcoming), Zoilus, Chart, Macleans and Radio Free Canuckistan Pt 2. One of the grand jurors reports in to The Montreal Gazette.

Photos: 2007 Polaris Music Prize Gala @ The Phoenix – September 24, 2007
MP3: Patrick Watson – “Luscious Life”
MP3: Patrick Watson – “Giver”
MP3: The Besnard Lakes – “And You Lied To Me”
MP3: Chad Van Gaalen – “Flower Garden”
MP3: Chad Van Gaalen – “Graveyard”
MP3: Julie Doiron – “No More”
MP3: Miracle Fortress – “Have You Seen In Your Dreams”
Video: Patrick Watson – “Close To Paradise” (YouTube)
Video: The Besnard Lakes – “For Agent 13” (YouTube)
Video: The Joel Plaskett Emergency – “Fashionable People” (YouTube)
Video: Chad Van Gaalen – “Flower Gardens” (YouTube)
Video: Julie Doiron – “Me And My Friend” (MOV)
Video: Julie Doiron – “No More” (youTube)
Video: Julie Doiron – “Swan Pond” (MOV)
Stream: Patrick Watson / Close To Paradise
MySpace: Patrick Watson
MySpace: The Besnard Lakes
MySpace: The Joel Plaskett Emergency
MySpace: Chad VavGaalen
MySpace: Julie Doiron

Some Polaris-related odds and ends – Bootlog is sharing a Miracle Fortress performance in Kingston a couple weeks ago and Joel Plaskett will play a series of shows at the Horseshoe from December 10 through 13 to celebrate the venerable venue’s 60th anniversary. Each night he’ll be playing one of his albums in its entirety, except not Ashtray Rock as that will henceforth be known as the LOSING record and never be spoken of again.

And completely un-Polaris related, check out one of the songs from British Sea Power’s forthcoming Krackenhaus? EP, out digitally October 9 and in plastic November 20. It’s terrific.

MP3: British Sea Power – “Atom”

By : Frank Yang at 8:45 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. Garry says:

    Too bad for Miracle Fortress, but good on for Patrick Watson. The first song I had heard from the record was "Giver" and thought it was alright — nothing life-changing. Afterwards, I heard the title track which I enjoyed more than most of the tracks on the record.

    I think Watson and Graham are both good composers, Graham especially. It would have been nice for both acts to, miraculously, receive the same award. But eh.

    So, they totaled their van, eh?

  2. Colin says:

    i wasn’t there, by according to the cbc podcast they made of the show, chad van gaalen did indeed play a track off his album, a song called mini tvs. maybe you were in the can or getting more food at the time. yeah man!

  3. Frank says:

    the first song he played was new – the guy who introduced him said as much and it was corroborated by others later. The second must have been from the album, I wouldn’t know. I haven’t heard it.

  4. Colin says:

    fair enough! great album though.

  5. Alasdair says:

    Patrick Watson’s album is very good, Its certainly not a bad winner. If your still puzzled then I recommend listening to the song "The Great escape" ASAP, which is what won me over to him. Its one of the most beautiful I’ve heard all year and definitely the stand out track.

  6. Kelly says:

    Love the pictures. I wish we could get more visuals as to what went on during the ceremony, as outsiders. I think it would be very entertaining!

    Great that it went to Patrick! I thought it was sincere of his appreciation for VanGaalen. I certainly think Chad is better off as an artist without winning a big award, for now… it might taint his songwriting/composing… and I certainly feel that he has sooo much more in him to give!

  7. Tim Gilbertson says:

    Good on Patrick Watson, for sure. Their live show is definitely good, I recommend it thoroughly.

    I would’ve like to see Mr. VanGaalen get it, but Patrick Watson was a very close second for me. That could just be because Skelliconnection was in my CD player when all my CDs were stolen, so it’s the only one I’ve got left.


  8. Ted says:

    hahah. Grant Lawrence an improvement over Jian? Nooooo, really? If that weasel Gomeshi were to decide he’d had enough of the limelight and gave up pop-culture raping for sheep farming I doubt he’d make headlines at wikipedia.

  9. thomaus says:

    I was baffled by the selection at first. In many ways similar to last year’s pick. But I think I figured out why he won. Look at his upcoming tour dates on his MySpace page. October and November has him trouping all over Europe. Then he plays Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC. Going all those foreign places he really needs to have "Canada’s Polaris Prize Winner" in his moniker. The selection committee wanted to get some mileage out of the pick.

    Makes as much sense as any other explanation why he won. Unless it was sympathy for the van story…

  10. Bob says:

    bridgingtheatlantic.blogspot.com has a blurb on the win, as well.

  11. curlybecs says:

    you can watch the Polaris gala performances online at