Natalie Zina Walschots is writing an impressionistic mini-review of every Polaris Prize nominee. The second half will follow next week.
Ariane Moffatt — MA
There is a swelling fullness to MA. There is also a surfeit of language, as Moffat is bilingual, and calls upon both lexicons for words and tone alike, throb and influence. For an album that is supposed to be an exploration of negative space, it is almost entirely filled with sound. I hoped for more struggle, more stutter, the awkward emptiness of casting around for the right word. Instead, sweet abundance.
Avec pas d’casque — Astronomie
A small child has a bin of art supplies in front on her, finger paints and leaky markers and coloured pencils. She begins to draw creatures on construction paper, joyfully making limbs and eyes, feathers and claws. Delightedly, these creatures pry themselves off the page, yawn and flutter to life, grinning through mismatched teeth. Some of them begin playing instruments.
Azari & III — Azari & III
Before science became a cold and sterile thing, something we conceptualize with silicon chips and flesh printers and decontamination suits, mad science was a matter of liquids. Alchemy was a process of heating, cooling and combining; in every ’50s pulp film, an evil doctor has a basement completely a-bubble with beakers and valves, viscous liquids frothing away, barely contained by strangely shaped glass. Imagine each of those beakers holds a sound. Imagine pulling all the stoppers, with elegance and purpose. Imagine the sound and the release.
Bahamas — Barchords
He’s supposed to just come by and pick up his stuff. Not much left; you’ve packed most of it, a drooping cardboard box with a sweater and some records, a tiny jade elephant. You’ve steeled yourself, told friends bravely you don’t need them to be there, you have a coffee in hand and your armour on. He just has to pick up the box and leave. Your thick-rimmed glasses and scarf don’t scare him, and, just as you’re sure he’s going to leave quietly, he has to turn and achingly touch your face.
The Barr Brothers — The Barr Brothers
The Barr Brothers know a different devil than I do. He’s a rascal and a rake, to be sure, a difficult sort of fellow to know, but when he arrives at a party he brings all the riotous fun and brimstone with him. He capers and cackles and trips and tempts, but there’s a jolliness that makes people feel affectionate towards him. It makes me want to shake my head. There’s entirely nothing here about bubbling tar or white-hot wire whips.
Bry Webb — Provider
Hearts ought to be more like cars. Instead of carrying around these clanking, rattling things that keep belching smoke, I’d like to be able to take mine to a mechanic. I imagine, with my ribs propped open and a grease-stained man inside my chest, tinkering, this is a lot what my busted old heart would sound like.
Cadence Weapon — Hope In Dirt City
This apocalypse is awfully clean.
Cannon Bros. — Firecracker/Cloudglow
A broken screen door. A yard full of fireflies. Candy in your pocket. Sucking on a stone when you feel too thirsty. Tying a string around a frog and calling it a pet. Bruises. Squinting.
Dan Mangan — Oh Fortune
You’re playing with a child for the first time in a while, and they propose a game. You’re Pirates or Knights or Soldiers or Batman. You smile indulgently, talked in an exaggeratedly phony voice, expect to be bored. Then, the game surprises you and takes over. Suddenly, you are swinging from a vine, swinging a twig like a cutlass, and bellowing a challenge. It sneaks up and takes you.
Feist — Metals
There are 23 heavy metals that can be dangerous, heavy elements that can poison us if we get too close or ingest too much. These metals have extra gravity and accrue in our soft tissues, making us heavier, our bodies more toxic. This album is not one of those metals. This is something akin to edible gold: pure and delicate, it passes through the body leaving us unchanged.
Great Lake Swimmers — New Wild Everywhere
A crack appears in the pavement. Rain widens it, dirt accumulates in it, and the city is occupied with other civil projects and ignores the hole as long as it can. A thatch of bedraggled grass grows there, a chain-smoking dandelion or two. A couple of tough city beetles move in. A small white butterfly, wings already tattered and coughing in the exhaust, flits down to rest a while.
Grimes — Visions
I’ve had my Grimes breakthrough. It finally happened. The ritualized performance, the celebration of lo-fi, the embrace of the mystical, the artist putting herself in an altered (starved, sleepless) state to create — it all makes sense now. Grimes is black metal for pop.
Handsome Furs — Sound Kapital
There’s no fur here at all. Not a stray hair or a bit of fluff or an unruly pelt to be found. Instead, everything is plucked and shaved, smooth and clean, powdered and covered in latex and rayon, with maybe the barest bit of spandex for stretch. Perfect for playing in a bar where goody-two-shoes superheroes drink (modestly).
John K. Sampson — Provincial
This is every place I am nostalgic for, but never want to revisit. The Monopoly board of subdivisions in the small town where I grew up. Filling my locker with crackers and tuna and cans of Coke in high school, all but living in the drama room. Anxiety attacks while writing my master’s thesis, so sleep-deprived that I hallucinated rabbits were following me. All those things that make great stories, but they’re moments I’d never relive.
Kathleen Edwards — Voyageur
The problem with being a serial monogamist is this album. There are no casual dalliances, brief and fondly remembered trysts, complicated situations that make you flush forever when you accidentally run in to each other. Instead, every few years you’re struck by lightning, see a face that you’ve been waiting all your life to recognize. You write an weep and puke and spend six hours talking on the phone or online or on a stoop without a coat in the rain. And then, it ends.
Leonard Cohen — Old Ideas
If there was ever a voice that could be transfigured into a physical object, it would be Leonard’s. And it would become a cathedral.
Mark Davis — Eliminate the Toxins
This may mean that I have a dried-up-shrivelled apple core for a heart, but I just don’t want to cry this much. There are so many soft spots, so much tremulousness scraped raw. I want to dwell in my carapace and be safe.
Parlovr — Kook Soul
There are two possible reactions to torpor and boredom: either you let the ennui embrace you, fill your limbs with heaviness, lay on the floor and contemplate never moving again, or you rail against the stillness with frantic activity. You make crafts with feathers and glue sticks, you play music too loud and monologue to your pets, you decide to make jam for the first time in your life. And the results are usually messy and ridiculous and mean you have to clean up for hours afterwards, but you’ve filled the time and made it a bright and shining thing.
P.S. I Love You — Death Dreams
Death is a terror bird. Death is an eighteen wheeler. Death is small and hard and white and merciless. Death tastes like puke and charcoal and almonds. Death lives under the kitchen sink. Death writes small notes and leaves them tucked between your T-shirts in your drawers. Death cannot clot. Death is always open, but death is not nearly this friendly.
Rich Aucoin — We’re All Dying To Live
God, this hangover. My bed is full of glitter and my legs are bloody. I can’t believe I rode my bike home. I can’t believe I sent these texts. I can’t believe I sent that email. I can’t believe I called you. No, I don’t remember. Oh god. Oh GOD. What? Well, I suppose it must have been a great party.
Natalie Zina Walschots is a poet and music writer based in Toronto, Ontario. Her second book of poetry, DOOM: Love Poems for Supervillains, was published by Insomniac Press this spring. You can follow her on Twitter at @NatalieZed.