Thursday, June 15, 2023

Polaris Prize unveils 40 nominees from Feist to Aysanabee

Story and photos by Allan Tong

The Polaris Prize, honouring Canada's best recorded music, announced this year's long list of 40 nominees last Tuesday evening. Sonic Boom, Toronto biggest record store, played host. Feist, Jessie Reyez, The Sadies and Murray Lightburn (of the Dears) made the list along with newcomers Eliza Niemi and Zoon. The full list:

Alvvays – Blue Rev
Aquakultre – Don’t Trip
Aysanabee – Watin
Badge Époque Ensemble – Clouds Of Joy
Begonia – Powder Blue
Bibi Club – Le soleil et la mer
BIG|BRAVE – nature morte
Philippe Brach – Les gens qu’on aime
Mariel Buckley – Everywhere I Used To Be
Daniel Caesar – Never Enough
Chiiild – Better Luck In The Next Life
Feist – Multitudes
Debby Friday – Good Luck
Gayance – Mascarade
Ghostkeeper – Multidimensional Culture
Home Front – Games of Power
JayWood – Slingshot
Khotin – Release Spirit
Thierry Larose – Sprint!
Murray Lightburn – Once Upon A Time In Montreal
Isabella Lovestory – Amor Hardcore
Dan Mangan – Being Somewhere
N NAO – L’eau et les rêves
Tami Neilson – Kingmaker

Eliza Niemi – Staying Mellow Blows

Nico Paulo – Nico Paulo
Planet Giza – Ready When You Are
poolblood – mole
Jessie Reyez – Yessie
The Sadies – Colder Streams
Jairus Sharif – Water & Tools
Andy Shauf – Norm
Dylan Sinclair – No Longer In The Suburbs
Snotty Nose Rez Kids – I’m Good, HBU?
Alexandra Stréliski – Néo-Romance
U.S. Girls – Bless This Mess
Witch Prophet – Gateway Experience
Yoo Doo Right – A Murmur, Boundless to the East

Zoon – Bekka Ma’iingan

Nominee Aysanabee answered 10 questions:

1) Where are you from?

A lot of places. Sandy Lake First Nation [Ontario] till I was four, then I lived in every northern town from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay, but now I'm based in Toronto.

2) Favourite musician?

Teeks, a Maori artist from New Zealand.

3) The first record that changed your life?

A Bob Marley greatest hits album on CD.

4) Do you collect vinyl?

I just started to. I recently got a vinyl player. I only have four records now.

5) What are you listening to now?

The Digging Roots album. ShoShana Kish, who founded the label I'm on, along with Amanda Rheume ignited this whole musicial journey for me.

6) What living musician would you love to collaborate on?

Oh, that's a toughie...I'm really in love with Nemesis' music right now.

7) And a musician who's no longer with us?

I'd like to see what me and Bob Marley can do.

8) What comic book superhero would you like to be?

I have a ton of comics that my grandfather gave me. I always loved the Batman comics.

9) Do you see yourself as a particular animal?

Definitely a bird, because I love to fly.

10) Where would you eventually love to settle?

Either in a rustic cabin in the mountains of the west, or I come into some money and start a recording studio and hostel in Thailand. I'd have a little stage where they'd be mandatory listening parties for a crochety, old me AYSANABEE walks out and plays his new song, then goes back to the studio.

The Polaris will announce their short list on July 13, then hosts the Polaris Gala on September 19 at Massey Hall. October 19 sees the Heritage Prize awarded to a Canadian album recorded before the Polaris began in 2006. Details of all events are found at

Thursday, June 8, 2023

film review: Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis)


Directed by Anton Corbijn

ChinoKino score: A

Review by Allan Tong

Atom Heart Mother, Band on the Run, Peter Gabriel 2, Houses of the Holy, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Dark Side of the Moon. Those are a few of the album covers that legendary studio, Hipgnosis, designed in the 1970s, and this terrific, entertaining new documentary tells their story.

That story centers on company founders Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey (Po) Powell, two Cambridge lads who were mates with a young band called Pink Floyd in the mid-1960s. The careers of Hipgnosis and Pink Floyd would be forever linked as the thorny, but brilliant Thorgerson and the meticulous Powell designed most of the Floyd's early and later albums. Both entities hit the jackpot with 1973's Dark Side of the Moon, with the multi-coloured prism on the cover forever being the band's visual signature.

The documentary is generous with vintage interviews of Thorgerson (who died in 2013) and contemporary ones of Powell, former collaborators as well as clients Pink Floyd (Waters, Gilmour and Mason), Paul McCartney, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel, and Graham Gouldman of 10CC. Noel Gallagher offers an outsider's perspective as a fan, and is as witty as always. The meat of the film lies in the astonishing stories of some of Hipgnosis' most famous covers. For Wish You Were Here, Powell set a stuntman on fire 15 times, until the stuntman's face nearly burned. Remember, these were the days before Photoshop. For Wings' Greatest Hits, the duo flew to the top of Mount Everest by helicopter to photograph a small statue that Paul McCartney had bought. Terrified of heights, Powell risked sliding down thousands of icy feet to his death. Of course, Hipgnosis could have just placed the statue on a bed of salt inside their London studio, but, hey, that would have been too easy.

It was also the 1970s, after all, the golden age of rock albums which sold in the multi-millions, and Hipgnosis was charging a fortune to design covers. That may boggle today's young minds, as Gallagher notes, who see only a postage-stamp icon of an album on their phones. However, covers were a big deal back in the day because they shaped the image of a band and conveyed the message of the music within.

Director Anton Corbijn evocatively lights his interviews in black and white and uses striking animation to announce each album cover like a chapter page in a book. Corbijn knows a thing or two about album covers, since he has photographed a few for bands like U2.

The hero and villain of this story is Thorgerson, whom everyone in the film recalls as a pain in the ass, but also sharp and charming. He and the more level-headed Powell rode the excesses of 1970s rock until they crashed in the early-1980s in bankruptcy and acrimony. It was a bitter ending, which abruptly ends the film and begs for more detail. However, enough time has passed to heal those wounds and celebrate the surreal imagination of the greatest album designers of all time.

Squaring the Circle opens Friday, June 9 in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Victoria in select cinemas, then expands to other cities in Ontario as well as Quebec City and Charlottetown this month.

Monday, June 5, 2023

IncluCity fest returns to Toronto, bigger than ever

 by Allan Tong

The ICFF is back, or shall I say the Lavazza IncluCity Festival, organized by the ICFF? Once Toronto's Italian film fest, IncluCity has rebranded in recent years into a multicultural (and multi-disciplinarian) visual arts festival. The core remains Italian films, but IncluCity has expanded its tent to include even Jewish and Chinese cinema, not to mention painting, opera, fashion and this year horror films. All in all, IncluCity will screen more than 50 feature films drawn from 26 countries.

From June 27 to July 22, the center of IncluCity will be the Distillery District with screenings taking place in oversize, plush seats beneath the stars (rain or shine) on this historic district's cobblestone avenue. It is, without a doubt, the most gorgeous setting to watch a film. 

There's a lot to unpack with IncluCity 2023, and here are the highlights: