IT’S Mercury Prize time again, a period where average music fans invite each other to step outside to settle their arguments over which artist has made the best album of the year. No other award invokes more impassioned and aggressive arguments as the annual Barclaycard Mercury Prize.
The Mercury Prize is renowned for recognising an eclectic range of acts each year who have released albums of substantial critical note. Nominees enjoy not just critical validation but also invaluable publicity and of course a phenomenal boost in sales.
Last year’s shortlist included the likes of Metronomy, Elbow, Ghostpoet, Adele and James Blake with PJ Harvey taking home the award, the first person to ever win the award twice. Now in its tenth year the 2012 results will be revealed at a ceremony in London on 1 November.
And the nominees are...
Richard Hawley – Standing At The Sky’s Edge.
The bespectacled Sheffield star has soaked up his fair share of acclaim for his seventh studio album, a more psychedelic rock’n’roll affair when compared to previous efforts. Hawley has been previously shortlisted in 2006, a year when fellow Yorkshire men Arctic Monkeys won, leading them to pronounce that “Richard Hawley’s been robbed” in their acceptance speech. Fresh from performing a career spanning concert accompanied by the 90 strong BBC Philharmonic Orchestra this year has, so far, been one of the best for Hawley’s musical output making him one of the favourites for the prize.
Django Django – Django Django.
The quirky art-pop of the Edinburgh formed quartet came to light late last year via their earworm like single ‘Default’. The band have drawn comparisons to Hot Chip as well as now the now defunct Beta Band, and not without reason as Django main man David Maclean is the younger brother of Beta Band keyboardist John Maclean. The Djangos have become the latest band to show the perpetual naysayers that ‘indie’ and ‘guitar music’ is not as dead as they think it is. The catchy hooks and avant-garde pop musings of Franz Ferdinand have been shunted forward on this eponymous album for an age where dance music is king of the mainstream.
Field Music – Plumb.
The Mackem Brewis brothers have always had the love of audiences at their own gigs but have struggled to translate their thoughtful intelligent pop into wider mass appeal. ‘Plumb’ is the sum of off-cut ideas and fragments leftover from the making of their previous album ‘Measure’. It’s a testament to the brothers’ musical abilities then that ‘Plumb’ is their most accessible and concise album yet, cramming a bundle of ideas into just 35 minutes. Their fifth offering’s infectious harmonic pop has finally lead to a wider audience waking up to Field Music after seven years of quiet adoration.
Alt-J – An Awesome Wave.
Alt-J, champions of Mac-Book shortcuts, have gone from quiet triangle loving university friends to new British music’s biggest success story of 2012. The smart money all points to this quartet who met at Leeds University to walk away with the honours this year. Widely labelled as ‘folk-step’ the band’s sound of sparse Jamie XX-like beats mixed with finger picking acoustics and the unmistakable nasal vocals of singer Joe Newman made for an unlikely Radio One friendly listing. Last year PJ Harvey showed favourites do still win the Mercury Prize which has become known for choosing outsiders, history may just repeat itself this year.
Jessie Ware – Devotion.
You can’t have failed to be aware of Ms Ware by now, prior to the release of her debut album she’d won over the dancier crowd through her work with producer Julio Bashmore and a massive remix of single ‘Running’ by Disclosure. Ware’s soulful side and impressive vocals also earned her a turn on BBC Breakfast news performing standout track ‘Wildest Moments’. Joined with a slew of diverse festival appearances over summer Ware has been busy and the down-to-earth London girl can truly be described as having chameleonic mass appeal, managing to fit in to almost any festival line-up without looking out of place, a feat which is very rarely possible. Ware’s stunning vocals sound repeat-button-mashingly beautiful when it comes to lighters in the air anthems or dance floor fillers.
The Maccabees – Given To The Wild.
The south London quintet have developed their sound and given it greater depth since their brilliantly skitterish debut album thrust them into the hearts of many a teenager in 2007. Where ‘Colour It In’ was comprised of songs concerning local swimming pools and meeting girls ‘Given To The Wild’, their third album, sees them pondering life and mortality. The song structures have also moved on from hook-laden indie-guitar pop to a more anthemic and brooding sound with synths put to atmospheric use. Singer Orlando Weeks has always had a keen grasp on clever lyrics and a brilliant warble to deliver them, and now he and the band sound as if they have grown up. They could quite easily continue their current trajectory to become one of Britain’s biggest bands one day.
Lianne La Havas – Is Your Love Big Enough?
La Havas first came to many attentions in October 2011 with a sweet and very special performance on ‘Later... With Jools Holland’. Standing alone in the spotlight the 22-year-old’s rich vocals and fuzzy finger picked guitar lines made a deep impact then, and nothing of that is lost on her debut album. The intimate moments on ‘Is Your Love...’ are the most striking. As La Havas’ pleads “Leave me no room for doubt” on a song that features Willy Mason the words quietly force their way out with her voice on the edge of emotionally breaking. The more upbeat ‘No Age’ shows a playful side to La Havas and her talents for crafting breezy jazz-pop melodies to accompany her soulful singing.
Roller Trio – Roller Trio.
Picking up the jazz baton this year are Roller Trio, a young Leeds based trio of energetic musicians. Their debut is one for contemporary jazz fans with the Roller’s creating tightly wound UK ‘nu-jazz’. The sax, drums, guitar are prone to freely improvised spells as showcased by their appearance at the recent Manchester Jazz Festival. Their eponymous debut has also been championed by DJ and label owner Gilles Peterson.
Plan B – Ill Manors.
Ben Drew needs little introduction these days since he swept up the plaudits with his soul infused album ‘The Defamation Of Strickland Banks’. On third album ‘Ill Manors’ Drew retreats to his initial persona of an aggressive and politicised rapper. This album is intrinsically linked to a film Drew has penned of the same name, in which six album tracks feature. The album draws on incendiary lyrics intending to grab attentions and provoke reactions. Many of the fans won over by ‘The Defamation of...’ may not be quite on the same wavelength with ‘Ill Manors’ but it is an album that shows Drew’s chameleon like abilities to turn his hand to a variety of genres.
Sam Lee – A Ground Of Its Own.
Sam Lee’s debut album is a collection of eight ballads collected from English, Irish and Scottish Traveller communities. His distinctive croon is partnered with original and often unexpected musical twists. Lee is a rising star among the British folk revival with a no-nonsense approach – ‘A Ground Of It’s Own’ features no guitars. Lee’s folk debut is likely to be an outsider, but with the Mercuries you never know.
Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again.
Following his coronation as the BBC’s ‘Sound of 2012’ winner Kiwanuka enjoyed a huge boost in interest from relative obscurity, along with the to be expected flack from those who thought the accolade should have gone elsewhere. There may not be anything massively inventive on the 25-year-old Londoners debut but his vintage soul vocals mix with a blend of the roots, jazz and folk music of his own musical heroes to create the impression that he was born several decades too late. ‘Home Again’ could quite easily be filed amongst countless seventies folk and soul classics.
Ben Howard - Every Kingdom.
Another folkie for this years list, 23-year-old Ben Howard’s debut album is more of the up tempo radio friendly mould. The Devonshire born singer-songwriter relies heavily on nature for inspiration and there’s no doubting his knack for a hook best typified on ‘The Wolves’. Howard isn’t the only songwriter who has a knack for finger plucked acoustic chords out there but based on his debut his chords will sound out louder than a lot of other pretenders.
Follow Ben on Twitter @BenPRobinson.
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