The Longlist Conundrum: Three Albums That Arguably Should Have Made the Borealis Shortlist

Three exceptional albums were so close to the shortlist they exposed a conundrum or two in a common music award adjudication system.


The Borealis Music Prize shortlist will be revealed in the November print issue, hitting stands (and our sidebar) on Wednesday.

To get to our shortlist, a jury of 20 local media and music-business personalities were given a longlist of 20 albums, and asked to rank their top five picks. A points system was devised to create a shortlist from these ballots: a 1st pick = 5 points, a 2nd pick = 4 points, and so on.

It is a standard longlist jurying system, used by The Polaris Music Prize for example, but when you’re the one tallying these results, you see some patterns that make the shortlist feel a little unfair in some regards.

Conundrum 1: Boat Haus

Few Too Many Moons by Boat Haus was without a doubt the surprise album of the year for many people, and this sentiment ran through the jury. Jurors were allowed to pick and rank 5 favourites, and this album appeared more commonly in jury top 5s than any other album except one.

Boat Haus also earned the most surprised jury commentary. “Boat Haus caught me by surprise,” says juror Tony Ploughman of Fred’s Music. “Why haven’t I heard about this? Not surprised by the quality of composition when I saw the cast involved. This should be on the local display walls at Fred’s!”

Likewise, musician Mark Bragg hadn’t realized the man behind the project. “I really liked Few Too Many Moons by Boat Haus, really catchy and creative. Lyrics were super original too. I knew nothing about the band, so I immediately looked up the singer on Facebook and was shocked to learn that it was Greg from Fixed.

As a townie coffee addict I’ve had music conversations with Greg but I had no idea he actually knew what he was talking about until I heard this record. I love that about St. John’s.”

Such a surprise gem is the kind of thing any shortlist wants to make room for, but sadly it was a mere 3 points shy from taking out some of the island’s most popular bands.

It could be argued most bands get popular by playing frequently, and Greg doesn’t play live: are albums that jurors hear for the first time during an adjudication process at a disadvantage?

And/or, is there an assumption, “Well, they won’t benefit as much from the award as a performing band.”? Is this why Boat Haus was the most consistently picked, but never ranked a 1st for the whopping 5 points other bands had to make it to the shortlist?

Who knows, but “Most Consistently Picked” should be an award itself, so kudos to Boat Haus. The album tied for 7th with Matthew Byrne (Oops, another leak!). And what’s not to love about songs like these:


Conundrum 2: Ilia Nicoll 

Musical innovators, and brother and sister Ilia and Jake Nicoll tied for sixth place – Ilia for her stunning, sophisticated album Caterwaul, and Jake for Run to the Rocks’ exceptional, genre-busting, self-titled album. Here’s a track off the Run to the Rocks album — the exceptional, very, very good Run to the Rocks album:

While Boat Haus and Run to the Rocks nearly made the cut by being so consistently picked as a common favourite, it seems the way to win these things is to do what Tanya Tagaq did this year at the Polaris: blow a handful of minds for those 1st place picks that are worth 5 points, or, inspire jurors to argue like mad for you.

That was the route Ilia Nicoll took: flooring 4 judges with her original, arresting music. Only 3 acts received 4 or more 1st place picks. Like Run to the Rocks, Ilia wound up merely ONE POINT shy of the shortlist. Here’s why:

We’re happy with the shortlist, yet how could we not have been rooting for albums like these, especially when they’re the most common picks, or in Ilia’s case, a tie for most #1 picks. In any case, It’s nice to live in a province producing so many quality albums there can even be a quality longlist, and one that’s missing a dozen other amazing albums to boot.

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  • Man. i respect the shortlist. All those folks have been working hard for years but the culmination seems to be a bit of common cast. A showcase at a ridiculously high profile show – kudos to the prize and the $$$$ will be beneficial to whomever wins.

    But for song for song I have to a reconsider for Boathaus, Just check out that half time breakdown halfway through the first song. it’s a destroyer. We’ll look back at this one in 5 years time and wonder why they never got the recognition.

    Of the entire list, they are the only album i’ll put on daily to sing along to the parts I’ve discovered and have a little dance to the parts that prompt me.

    But then again it’s not my list. It’s yours and you did a deadly job. I might save up $1000 and give it to Greg and the bys out of love. Cheers to you OC for doing a great job.

    • I feel the same way about the Boathaus album — best local discovery, or new band of the year. I pity the poor just who had to pick just 5 albums off the longlist … and love your enthusiasm for Boathaus, haha.

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