Untitled-1The Overcast’s annual Borealis Music Prize recognizes uncommon talent, potential, and originality in any genre of music by a local artist. It is a triple juried award, so whoever wins really worked for it: the longlist, the shortlist, and the winner are each picked by a new, separate jury. 

This award is our way of putting some of the best local albums of the year on the radars of our readers who are not going downtown every weekend at midnight to hear local music. We also cut the winner a $1000 cheque, and make them January’s cover story.

Who Was Eligible?

Any album by a local artist released between Oct. 16th, 2014, and Oct. 15th, 2015, that had 6 or more songs, and was at least 80% original music.

How Was the Longlist Made?

That was tough. Really tough. So many strong albums were left behind, including favourites from certain jurors by local legends, new and old.

So, how’d we come up with the list? Five regular contributors to The Overcast’s music section picked 40 albums to consider, then anonymously ranked (i.e honestly ranked) these albums from 0-5. Those points were tabulated. For example, Kat McLevey, Hey Rosetta, and Ouroboros all received 22 points.

Big thanks yous to these writers: Joanna Barker, Brad Pretty, Alyson Samson, Lukas Wall, and editor Chad Pelley, for their time and patience in ploughing through the process and not whining too much about a personal favourite or two not making it through. That’s the purpose of a jury: consensus trumps personal opinion.

Like this year’s Canadian election, there are definitely surprise exclusions, maybe even a surprise inclusion unseating a stalwart shoe-in, and maybe even a strategic voter who aimed to help round out the spotlight other awards have already granted certain artists this year.

Why Was the Longlist Made This Way?

We went with this model because expecting an outside jury to listen to 100+ albums, carefully, having never heard a lot of them, just wouldn’t reliably happen. If you’ve managed an award before, you know you’d just have jurors quickly skimming albums, or voting for the stuff they already knew.

In any case, we all know there really is no such thing is a “Best Album” anyway. It’d be a pretty boring music scene if we all had a favourite artist. The paper is sad about some of what got left behind, but entirely standing behind the strength of each longlisted album, and the diversity of the longlist.

Who Makes the Shortlist from the Longlist?

A gender-balanced roster of 16 local musicians, media, and industry professionals: Musicians Heather Nolan, Aley Waterman, Megan Warren, Jon Hynes (last year’s winner!), Steve Maloney (Last year’s runner up!), and Greg Hewlett; Media Types: Tom Cochrane (Old Crow), Zach Goudie (CBC), Wendy Rose (The Herald), Industry Types: Andrea Vincent (Lawnya Vawnya), Chrissy Dicks (Lawnya Vawnya), Mary MacDonald (the woman, the legend), and Bonnie Fedrau (MusicNL), Glen May (Shed Island), Tony Murray (The man, the legend), Gene Brown (The Levee). We’ll announce the short list grand jury, along with the shortlist in December.

The 2015 Borealis Music Prize Longlist:

Amelia 2

A sophisticated singer-songwriter with a poet’s lyrics, a striking approach to the guitar, and one of the most affecting voices this side of Canada. Sample track: “I Am the Night.”


Described by The Overcast’s Brad Pretty as “a carefully constructed melancholic ride” with “low key hooks and a breezy, laid-back vibe,” Bleu’s Marcus McLaughlin emerged in 2015 as one of the most unique new songwriters in St. John’s, whose spin on ambient rock sounds like psych-pop on a hangover.


The biggest, most bad ass local rock album of the year, easy. It’d stand toe to toe with any gritty, unapologetic Canadian rock release this year. If you’re loving the new Eagles of Death Metal, try this local gem on for size.


Lovers and a Better Wage borrows the best qualities of country, folk, and the singer-songwriter genre to build a beautiful, aching sound that, to quote their review in The Overcast, “brings the dusty, backroads of the Americana sound to the pot-holed streets of small town Newfoundland.”

Fog Lake

Fog Lake is like a Rubix Cube: either you get it or you don’t. But anyone who writes music will appreciate that no one but him could have crafted this unique album. Aaron Powell has garnered an international following with his sui generis sound, and Victoria Park, his best work yet, is a victory of moody music and hi-quality lo-fi.

Gary & Whit

If you get the reference: Deacon Claybourne would approve; this dreamy Nashville-conjuring duo are Newfoundland’s Scarlett & Gunnar. Matches strikes a rare balance between simplicity and sophistication that is both big and intimate, powerful and quiet.

Hey Rosetta

Hey Rosetta! craft uncommonly complex songs that defy their advanced song structures by being accessible and catchy singalong powerhouses, track after track after track. The musicians are all on their A game here: innovative, impressive work.


Ilia and Vic

Two modern St. John’s legends Ilia Nicoll & Victor Lewis partnered up in February to record an RPM, ie, to write and record 10 songs together in one month, and surprised everyone with this understated gem. Not quite Ilia, not quite Vic, their combined forces made something perfect for your lazy Sunday morning soundtrack.


Jonny and the Cowabungas

Who needs lyrics when the music is this good? This surf rocking sensation was one of the breakout bands of the year, and landed themselves in many a festival to prove it: Lawnya Vawnya, Shed Island, and Harbourage, for example.


Kat McLevey

If there’s one thing to take away from this album, it’s that Kat is no longer one to watch, but one to catch up with. It’s time to stop calling her a musical wonder-kid, or promising young songwriter, because the new story is this: Kat McLevey is writing in the singer-songwriter genre as well as any of her townie contemporaries.

Katie Baggs

This stripped down folk sound is exactly where Baggs should dwell, because her quiet, controlled songs do not get in the way of her arresting voice. Songs like “Fall Away,” “Always a War,” and “Silver Thaw” are everything a modern folk song should be: gentle but powerful, with empty track spaces building an atmosphere as strong as any further instrumentation could have mustered anyway.


Land of Lakes

There are so many tracks per song, that are so well built, mixed, and subtly stacked, that the album is proof a song could always be a little better; there’s always a small hole in the background of a chorus that could use a shaker or a guitar fill, or a back-up vocal, or maybe the pre-verse needs a little fuzz, or the verse needs a quick pause in the middle to keep the listener attentive. Something. They embrace this philosophy, and it makes the album shine.


Long Distance Runners - Elements

What stands out the most is the patience and execution in the moulding of song structures on the album.  Elements is a carefully crafted and sophisticated exploration of rock and roll, and the production value on this record elevates the music to heights many local releases fail to reach, as the sheer quality of these recordings demand your attention take note of how utterly un-lazy the band’s compositions are on these tracks.


Nothing says a band is doing its job well like a positive audience reaction, and people regularly crowd-surfed to this band all 2015 long, in places with ceilings as dangerously low as The Ship. Micah Brown’s mile-a-minute vocal delivery keeps the listener jolted and engaged, and the music itself is altogether catchy, with all the right flourishes in lead guitar that often mirror the vocal’s delivery, amping up every song’s sing-along status.


Songs like “Bed Wetter,” “Pterodactyl Blues” and “Fireflies in July” demonstrate a natural band chemistry — perfectly suited drumming, chugging bass, and catchy lead licks. These are big jam anthems with a nice Riot Grrl throwback solid enough to secure The Mudflowers as Newfoundland’s answer to Sleater-Kinney.


With four saxes to blow you away, they do just that. Seriously: 4 skilled saxophonists and a drummer that won’t quit. Seriously original, seriously dancy, and seriously good. Don’t miss their next show.


A record of rare musical originality — not unlike Anthony and the Johnsons on an acid-fueled rock and roll experimentation trip. On Elvi$, People on Pause are pushing envelopes in all the right directions, whether you get the message or not. Elvi$ is knocking down the walls that box in how we use instruments — vocals included.


Peter Willie Youngtree

If we’re talking country, actual country – before the genre was inundated with high-gloss, made-for-radio, unnaturally produced singles – then Peter Willie Youngtree might be the best thing in local country since the disappearance of Joe Belly. Youngtree is an authentic country musician, but he’s not just rehashing his genre, he’s reinventing it, to suit his songwriting style.


Swinging Belles

A kid’s album, sure, but it’s one of the most musically accomplished, and altogether catchy albums of the year. And of course it is: Duane Andrews on the guitar, backing up the untouchable harmonies of Erin Power (mandolin, guitar, percussion) and Laura Winter (banjo, guitar, percussion). These are old-timey gems whose lyrics alone make this trio the best children’s group this side of Canada.


Terra are unquestionably one of the city’s most unique and musically interesting bands, and this album boasts a big rich, slickly produced sound reminiscent of nothing else in the province, or for that matter, the country.