When the Polaris Music Prize announced its annual shortlist this year, there were at least a few things to note. First off, the appearance of two former winners of the still relatively new Canadian music prize (Owen Pallett/Final Fantasy and Caribou) and some serious indie rock heavyweights like Broken Social Scene, The Sadies, and Tegan And Sara. Along with other Polaris familiars Shad and The Besnard Lakes and newcomers to the nominations like Radio Radio and Dan Mangan, it would make this, as always, a very interesting and inevitable decision for the jury.
Sitting somewhere in this list of fairly familiar names, a band name appeared that myself and I'm pretty certain a whole lot of Polaris followers had never heard of: Karkwa. Before we knew it, the end of September (and summer as we knew it) rolled around and the winner was announced. Karkwa, for their album Les Chemins De Verre ! My first thought, of course, was just who exactly are these mysterious artists ? It'd take anyone about two lines of text to read as much as they'd need to figure it out but here, I'm happy to serve a proper introduction to an excellent band that evidently could use a few more, so here goes.
By way of Montréal and the Francophone province of Canada known as Québec, a band has been using their 12 years together (!) to fine tune a very pronounced and interesting take on the indie rock template so well studied throughout our country. Having already toured the world extensively, the band most definitely comes through loud and clear as something we probably all should've taken notice of at least a few years ago. And it's not as if they haven't received significant praise already worldwide but seeing as their music is sung completely in French, it's just one of those things that doesn't often make it to our ears when we live in a province that more often than not (and quite pathetically) dismisses, ignores or even scoffs at the idea of an official secondary language.
Well, I implore you to see what happens after a few listens of Karkwa's brilliant Les Chemins De Verre. Even for people who won't be able to understand a damned word the guy is so enchantingly singin' about, there's a certain charm to the subconscious or emotional interpretation of music that functions in that way. And once you start to revel in the album's sonic beauty, you'll see it excels in such exercises. The melodies are plentiful, the vocal harmonies lush, the arrangements intuitive, I could go on. From it's eye-opening start to beautiful finish, Karkwa take the listener on a windswept ride of remarkably solid songs, alternating between folkier studies in acoustic guitar and piano to rocketing, beat-heavy psych rock numbers, all in easy, quick-moving succession.
Like I said, this album could serve as a music lesson in some of the best, most wholesome indie rock you can find out there but Karkwa don't go without stretching boundaries of what that quantifies and keeping everything sounding fresh, much in the way what fellow Montrealers Plants And Animals accomplished in 2008 when their still underrated Parc Avenue was beat out for the Polaris by Caribou's Andorra. This time, the French wins all, and rightly so. Good on ya, Polaris Music Prize guys. For everyone else, it's your turn to win -- find this album and give it a whirl. It'll return the favor.
POSTED BY GALEN MILNE-HINES, BONHOMIE FRIDAY, OCTOBER 1, 2010