The 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:
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 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.
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! 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sounds like you had a great New Year’s. Did you like everything you ate? Some of it looks a little too adventurous for me. What would you do if you didn’t like something? Would you eat it anyway to be po?teilThanks for sharing.
Dude, right on there brrehto.
There are some great albums on here and they’ve all worked hard to get here but there are also some great albums left off.
I know you’re never going to please everyone when it comes to these ‘lists’ (understandable) but bands who won or were nominated for multiple MusicNL awards should almost be guaranteed on this list. Fortunate Ones, Jerry Stamp, Waterfront Fire, and The Once come to mind, just to name a few.
Like MusicMan mentioned above, I also sense a slight biased/discrepancy from The Overcast towards wanting to promote certain bands (and friends in those bands) over others and I don’t feel I’m wrong in saying that. Look, there’s nothing wrong with favoring your friends, in fact, it should be encouraged but if you’re going to have an “Awards List” that hands out money and opportunities, then it should be fair and unbiased.
All that being said, good luck and congratulations to those nominated here! You already beat out some great local albums and you’re all talented Musicians!
Hey! THe Once’s album wasn’t eligible (It was too old). Appreciate the fair, understanding tone. You’re not wrong, of course, but basically: You pick a jury, and the jury comes up with a list. Our jury simply differed in opinion than the MusicNL one, I guess. Juries are a strange unpredictable thing. If even 1 juror ranks an album too low, it could cost it a place on a list, or too high, and it could push it through. Also, the “system” for the MusicNL award jury is different, taking into account a broader spectrum of things, like, quality of an album’s recording, previous accolades for the band, etc. The Borealis simply asks for its jurors’ visceral reaction to the music. Or, to apply their own considerations: at least 1 juror felt The Fortunate Ones wouldn’t benefit from this award, after the year they had. Is that right or wrong, who knows, but the paper can’t control a juror’s motivations. As for your other point, we’ll certainly consider working on a more diverse jury moving forward, so thanks for the input. Guilty as charged there’s a lot of overlap in our musical preferences/bias, but I can publish the results of their anonymous rankings of these albums — we were all over the place. Some bands that never made the longlist got 5s from one or two jury members, some bands that made the list got zeroes. And I can guarantee you I, Chad, one of the jurors, was forced to leave plenty of “friends” off this list, including those you’ve mentioned by name, like Jerry, Catherine, and Andrew, because it’s how the voting went. Conversely, my, as editor, relationship with any of these bands is no stronger on a personal level than plenty of local bands that didn’t make the list, so it’s belittling the bands that made it to say they got in because they knew someone. Every award suffers from this perception, or even worse, the notion “they got on the list because they’re popular and the jury was too lazy to listen to the unheard of stuff” (which i have heard osaid f other music awards like the eCMAs) Can’t win ;), but hey. It’s all in the name of raising awareness around a few local bands, so someone wins. Appreciate your fairly worded feedback, sincerely, though. I hope this response feels conversational. Not getting defensive, just trying to be open.
Thanks for the quick response.
Like you said, unfortunately with contests like these, you’re always going to run into these problems, there is no one right answer. However, if one juror feels like Fortunate Ones wouldn’t benefit from the award then why would said Juror give Hey Rosetta! and Amelia Curran a different rating/ranking if they fall under the same category as Fortunate Ones? Wouldn’t these acts also not benefit from this? I mean, wouldn’t that set off some alarms right away regarding the juror’s legitimacy?
As much as individuality of Juror’s scores are of the utmost importance when picking winners and lists, so to is combining their remarks and ratings to review, critique and possibly disregard as it represents The Overcast (you are the sum of your parts, right?).
One final thought: I would assume it would also be belittling to the bands who didn’t get in because the jurors either didn’t know them or didn’t like them. Can’t win 😉
Well yes. The jurors were told, “Please evaluate these bands based on how well they succeed at the sound they’re after; the musical merit in that regard. And nothing else.” But ask a teacher or parent: who really does what you ask 😉 All I can say is these jurors took the job very seriously and listened to WAY more albums than most juries would’ve. I stand by them, knowing that. They were in fact chosen for their intense appreciation for local music. Also, like you, they each would have liked to see some bands on here that never made it. I, for one, think AM/FM Dreams, Andrew Stanley, and Sean Murray are sad/surprise omissions. They each fared well, too. Thanks for the back and forth here: most people just wanna throw a hissy fit instead of having open dialogue.
Vic Lou is the one of all ones, IMO
All great artist’s on here though
It’s surprising to me that Fortunate Ones & Waterfront Fire are not on this list. Not because I am a fan – but because they won 5 MusicNL awards last month between them. It seems odd that there is such a discrepancy between the two bodies (Overcast/MusicNL).
However, I am pumped to see some lesser known local acts on here – The Darts, Vic Lou, Maans. Shows your panel know the music scene pretty well.
the Denis Parker and the Modern Saints album should be on this list.
Wow, soo much talent! Just saw TERRA the other night and bought the album on vinyl..it blew my mind. What an album.
@ANON: totally man. Sick shortlist gonna come outta dis! ’bout time someone showed some love to The Darts! And my god, if that Swinging Belles stuff ain’t the sweetest!
Nice to see so many strong female songwriters on here, from the Kats and Katies Sandys (Domestics) to the badass Mudflowers and Land of Lakes!
Oh look, it’s a pile of hipsters wanking each other off again. Yahoo. Who gives a damn, there’s not a band on here I’d play in my ride.
“My Ride,” lol. and lighten up, man, I bet you haven’t even listened to the sample tracks? A longlist is about hearing new stuff. I’m sure you’d find something here for your “ride.” (Lemme guess, it’s a truck with metal balls hanging from it.)
Oh, c’cmon, just give it to Ouroboros already!
Yes, SS, The Domestics are from here! Sweethearts to boot. My pick to win though, is Maans! Or Bleu. Or the Cowabunga kids …
Amelia for the win! but holy cow, Gary & Whit, and, The Domestics are stunning! I never see them play, are they from town? Are their albums at Fred’s?
I tip my hat to you, Overcast, for being a newf paper without a freakin fiddle and washbaord on your award list! I wish Waterfront Fire was on here, but as I click play on these albums, you’re right they’re all strong in their own way, and you’re right this list brags of the diversity of local music. We’re rich in dealy ol’ tunes! I hadn’t heard of Terra. That “Blood Orange” song up there is KILLER. #LongDistanceRunnersfortheWin
^ Totally! If it were my call, here’s the bestest shortlist: Amelia Curran, The Darts, Hey Rosetta!, Long Distance Runners, and either Fog Lake or Gary & Whit!
Oh, man: This is gonna make the most ultimate shortlist ever!