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THE SCOOP | The Polaris Music Prize Long List, Instrumental Music And Its Place In The Ecosystem

By Anya Wassenberg on June 13, 2024

Artist and Polaris Music Prize Long Lister Jeremy Dutcher (Photo courtesy of the artist)
Artist and Polaris Music Prize Long Lister Jeremy Dutcher (Photo: Kirk Lisaj)

The Polaris Music Prize Long List was revealed on June 11. It consists of 40 albums culled from an original list of more than 200 releases suggested by Polaris Jury members, which, as of this year, include me.

The 2024 Long List was unveiled at Sonic Boom Record Shop in Toronto’s downtown west end.

The Polaris Music Prize Long List

Of the 40 albums on the Long List, 16 were new to the list, which also included three past winners, and one past Polaris Heritage Prize recipient.

Singer, composer and transgender activist Beverly Glenn-Copeland has a career that stretches back five decades. The reissue of his 1970 self-titled debut album sparked a revival of interest in this genre-defying artist. Elements of minimalism, Detroit techno, and traditional folk songwriting come together in his work.

Glenn-Copeland studied classical piano from a very early age, and went on to study at McGill University in the early 1960s as one of the school of music’s first Black students. Along with his own recording projects, for 22 years, he performed on the Canadian classic, the Mr. Dressup show. The Polaris Heritage Artist has returned to recording and touring, and his music is reaching new generations with his latest album The Ones Ahead.

Jeremy Dutcher’s MOTEWOLONUWOK ᒣᑏᐧᐁᓓᓄᐧᐁᒃ is one of the releases on the Long List. Dutcher won the Polaris in 2018 with his album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa. His compositions take his classical music training and combine it with pop and other genres through the filter of his Indigenous heritage to create a truly unique musical expression. He has become a favourite guest artist of many orchestras, and is currently on tour through Canada and in Europe for the rest of the year.

Part of the fun of being a jury member, of course, lies in the introduction to so many new albums and artists — a dizzyingly long list of them, in fact.

Montreal’s TEKE TEKE is a band that has woven orchestral instruments into a unique take on the classic rock band. Their name comes from a Japanese urban legend about the ghost of a schoolgirl who dies in a prank gone wrong, and their music is dubbed as Japanese psych-rock. It’s atmospheric and cinematic, a fact that has not escaped the gaming industry. Their tracks have been used in the Assassin’s Creed franchise.

The instrumentation and Japanese elements create a sound that is reminiscent of 1960s-70s era psychedelia and the avant-garde. The members of the Montreal-based band are: guitarists Sei Nakauchi Pelletier and Hidetaka Yoneyama, bass player Mishka Stein, drummer Ian Lettre, flutist Yuki Isami, trombone player Etienne Lebel, and visual artist and vocalist Maya Kuroki.

Perhaps art rock will be the next genre that orchestral music will (re)conquer…

The full 2024 Long List as presented by Canada Council for the Arts:

  • Allie X — Girl With No Face
  • BAMBII — INFINITY CLUB
  • The Beaches — Blame My Ex
  • BIG|BRAVE — A Chaos Of Flowers
  • Haley Blais — Wisecrack
  • Charlotte Cardin — 99 Nights
  • Beverly Glenn-Copeland — The Ones Ahead
  • Corridor — Mimi
  • Helena Deland — Goodnight Summerland
  • Annie-Claude Deschênes — LES MANIÈRES DE TABLE
  • Devours — Homecoming Queen
  • DijahSB — The Flower That Knew
  • Ducks Ltd. — Harm’s Way
  • Jeremy Dutcher — Motewolonuwok
  • Elisapie — Inuktitut
  • Dominique Fils-Aimé — Our Roots Run Deep
  • Shane Ghostkeeper — Songs For My People
  • Karkwa — Dans la seconde
  • KAYTRAMINÉ — KAYTRAMINÉ
  • KEN mode — Void
  • La Force — XO Skeleton
  • La Sécurité — Stay Safe!
  • Cindy Lee — Diamond Jubilee
  • Sean Leon — IN LOVING MEMORY
  • Terra Lightfoot — Healing Power
  • LOONY — LOONY
  • Jon Mckiel — Hex
  • myst milano. — Beyond the Uncanny Valley
  • NOBRO — Set Your Pussy Free
  • NYSSA — Shake Me Where I’m Foolish
  • Pelada — Ahora Más Que Nunca
  • PETER PETER — Éther
  • Population II — Électrons libres du québec
  • Allison Russell — The Returner
  • Arielle Soucy — Il n’y a rien que je ne suis pas
  • Super Duty Tough Work — Paradigm Shift
  • TALK — Lord of the Flies & Birds & Bees
  • TEKE::TEKE — Hagata
  • TOBi — Panic
  • Tomb Mold — The Enduring Spirit

Instrumental Music In The Mix

The Polaris Music Prize is a non-for-profit organization, and the prizes are awarded based solely on artistic merit. Not taking into account genre or record sales is what makes them unique, and puts small scale releases on the same footing as big budget artists and albums.

It also puts instrumental music on the same footing as vocal-dominated genres.

Theoretically, that is.

A look at the list, which contains exactly zero instrumental tracks, puts that theory into perspective. In the world of mainstream commercial music, which dominates radio play and most media coverage in North America, genres like Western classical music and jazz operate distinctly outside the norm.

In the world of classical music, we recognize that vocal music and instrumental music are (or can be) equal in power, beauty and impact. In a vocal recital, the accompanist to a vocalist is also required to be an accomplished musician, and the instrumental score can be just as challenging as the vocal melody.

In much of the pop music world, in contrast, the instrumental backing tracks are formulaic and repetitive, and even when not, written to stay in the background while the entire focus remains on the vocal performance. If that’s all you’re listening to, you may very well be persuaded that vocals are an absolutely essential part of music, and that something is severely lacking without them.

As long as genres like classical music and jazz are seen as peripheral to the mainstream, there is no equal footing to be had.

The increasing popularity of orchestral music and instrumentation, including the candlelight concert phenomenon, and the fad for orchestral arrangements of pop tunes, may be a glimmer of hope in the direction of increased acceptance of instrumental music overall.

The Polaris Music Prize

In order to be eligible, albums under consideration had to be released between April 1, 2023 and May 1, 2024. The Short List of the final 10 albums under consideration will be announced on July 11.

The jury consisted of 209 music journalists, which will be whittled down to 11 for the Grand Jury to make the final selection from the Short List.

The winning album will be revealed during the Polaris Gala on September 17 at Massey Hall in Toronto. The Polaris Music Prize comes with $50,000 courtesy of Slaight Family Foundation along with the statue.

  • Find out more about the Polaris Gala [HERE].

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