Montreal's Godspeed You! Black Emperor won the 2013 Polaris Music Prize for their album Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! last night at the Carlu in Toronto.
Announced by last year's winner Feist, the eight-piece experimental rock act's first LP in a decade was chosen Canadian album of the year over Metric's Synthetica, Tegan and Sara's Heartthrob, METZ's METZ, Whitehorse's The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss, Young Galaxy's Ultramarine, Purity Rings' Shrines, Zaki Ibrahim's Every Opposite, A Tribe Called Red's Nation II Nation and Colin Stetson's New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light.
The Polaris Music Prize is awarded based on artistic merit as determined by more than 200 Canadian journalists, bloggers and broadcasters, then a final grand jury of 11 people who debate and battle it out behind closed doors while the ceremony is taking place before voting by secret ballot. Even they do not know the winner until it is announced onstage.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor, who have built a career by selectively saying no, didn't attend the gala, but they did say yes to the $30,000 cash prize -- sort of. Ian Ilavsky, co-founder of their record label Constellation, did attend. He said onstage that the band would use the check to support musical instruments and music education in Quebec prisons. The nine runners up each received $2,000.
"I really did not expect to be up here tonight," Ilavsky said. "I have known the band for almost 20 years – they've been at it for almost 20 years – and I do know that they want to strongly and unequivocally thank everybody involved with the voting and judging process of Polaris [and] industry people who care about the independents and who think that independent music still has a promise to do something in terms of its choices and its structures and its methods."
He continued, "So anyone who know about Godspeed know the choices that they've mostly made and have remained relatively silent about it."
Singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards and rapper Shad co-hosted the event, which featured performances from most of the artists on the short list. METZ offered a show-stealing assault, A Tribe Called Red featured a dazzling hoop dancer, Whitehorse employed live looped rhythms, Stetson created a saxophone-stretching controlled cacophony and Metric's Emily Haines and Jimmy Shaw put on a simple and stunning presentation. Tegan and Sara, the only other act unable to attend (though they appeared to be watching the live stream, according to their tweets) was honored in absentia by about 60 members of community group Choir! Choir! Choir!, who sang "Closer."
The short list was culled from a long list of 40 albums that was announced in June. For both rounds, jurors submitted online their top five full-length albums that had been released between June 1st, 2012, and May 31st, 2013. Jurors followed the same process to determine the short-list, selecting their top five albums from the pool of 40.
Past Polaris Music Prize winners include Feist (2012) Arcade Fire (2011), Karkwa (2010), Fucked Up (2009), Caribou (2008), Patrick Watson (2007) and Owen Pallett's Final Fantasy project (2006).