Making a case for who should win the Polaris prize is always difficult. It’s not like anyone on the short list doesn’t deserve it—the problem is they probably all do. But someone does have to choose, and the Polaris prize is interested in rewarding up-and-coming artists who’ve already put the time into proving their quality and dedication.
It’s along those lines that I can make a case for Whitehorse, the latest project from married duo Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland. While the band only has one full-length album under their belts, The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss, the pair have been working hard—individually and together—for a combined 29-plus years.
Doucet’s been in the industry since ’96, back when he was in Vancouver surf rock band Veal. He kicked off his solo career in 2001, the same year McClelland put out her self-titled debut. The two met in 2004 when McClelland asked Doucet to produce an album for her. As their relationship progressed, so did their collaborative efforts with each appearing on the other’s albums.
It only makes sense that the two would eventually take a break from their solo projects and put together something of their own. They announced the new project with the release of their first EP, simply titled Whitehorse. It was a teaser of what the duo would later bring with Fate of This World.
From the very first note, it’s obvious these two musicians mean business. Doucet’s guitar wails, and there’s a bluesy rock feel to the songs that blends together everything this pair has done before. At the same time, Whitehorse is entirely its own thing with McClelland’s vocals really stealing the show as she huskily sings over the angst pouring out from the strings.
“Devil’s Got a Gun” stands out as an example where the pair play to their strengths—McClelland’s vocals take over with an ominous croon and Doucet adds just the right hint of tenor. What really impresses is how well these two compliment each other, both in the past and on the album.
Songs like “Mismatched Eyes (Boat Song)” fall back on the soft rock/folk that the pair had when they started—before a trip to Nashville really brought them to country rock. It’s also a moment when the chemistry between the two really gets to play out through the music.
“Out Like a Lion” draws on McClelland’s past sounds, with a catchy emotive chorus, while “No Glamour in the Hammer” makes use of a vocal effect the pair love using to add a retro feel to the songs. “Annie Lu” is reminiscent of Doucet’s “Bombs Away” with the same subdued vocals and languishing lyrics.
While they’re only an album and two EPs in, there’s a rich history that comes with this pair. Fans of both artists know they deserve recognition (and reward), and there’s a lot more Whitehorse has to offer—exactly what the Polaris judges want to see.