IN THIS PHOTO: The album cover for Let's Eat Grandma's I'm All Ears/ALL PHOTOS/IMAGES (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Press Association
Which Albums Are in with a Shout of a Mercury Music Prize Nomination?
IF you enjoyed a British album…
IN THIS PHOTO: Last year's Mercury Music Prize winner, Sampha
released between Saturday, 22nd July, 2017 and Friday, 20th July, 2018 (looking a few days ahead, it seems!); chances are it will be in with a shot of a Mercury Music Prize nod. The dozen longlisted albums will be announced on Thursday, 26th July and it will be exciting to see who makes the cut. Last year’s winner, Sampha, impressed judges and the public with Process – a fine record from the London songwriter. Hyundai, again, are putting their name to the prize and there is talk as to who might be nominated this year. Many feel the Mercury Music Prize has lost a bit of direction and is not inclusive enough. I think a couple of things need to happen when it comes to announcing the longlisted. It is too late to change course – as the albums have been selected/most have – but one suspects there will be a mix of the mainstream best and the outsiders. There is always a Jazz or Folk record alongside the finest from Pop, Rock and Alternative. In terms of the best albums from 2017; look at most rundowns and you will see a largely American crew. Artists such as St. Vincent, Thundercat and The National. I look at the assumed best of this year (so far) and there is a bit more variation – are we to assume the twelve albums that will appear on the list are going to be taken from this year?
Thursday, 20th September will see a new British champion crowned and I wonder whether judges will go with an album like Sampha’s Process or something Rock/Pop-based? Dizzie Rascal’s Raskit was released a day before the cut-off point for eligibility (it was released on Friday, 21st July, 2017) but that could have been a good outside bet. Whether you love or loathe the new album from the Arctic Monkeys; Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino seems like a Mercury-worthy record! Many say it is not as intense and immediate as other albums from the Yorkshire band. I know it is a grower and seems like an Alex Turner solo album but there has been some great critical reception. At the very least, it would show the panel are willing to take risks and recognise an album that may not seem like a classic right now – something that has the potential to grow and establish its worth years from now. It is hard to make early predictions and one glaring thing stands out. Whilst there have been some tremendous British albums from the past year; look at the critics' lists and most of them focus on American works. In fact; type in ‘The best albums of 2018’ and the vast majority will be American. That is not to indicate British albums have not been able to cut it alongside the American best. A lot of the votes and lists are compiled by American critics who, let’s be fair, have myopic views and do not tend to spend too much outside their own nation.
A couple of albums I have rather enjoyed are Microshift (Hookworms) and Open Here (Field Music). Both of the records scored well from critics; both bands are northern (Field Music are from Sunderland whilst Hookworms are from Leeds/Halifax). It would be good to see both of these records get a nod and sit alongside the very best. Young Fathers’ Cocoa Sugar, perhaps, is the frontrunner. The Scottish band won the prize back in 2014 for their album, Dead, and I would not bet against them winning the award for the second time. Critics have been raving and drooling over their latest work. Alexis Petridis, in a review for The Guardian, proclaimed:
“The trio are smart enough to keep their experimentation sharp and to the point: the longest track here lasts four minutes, while the shortest – Wire, with its oddly Viz comic-like refrain of “Ooh, ya fucker!” – is over in 100 seconds. The end result is fascinating and forbidding in equal measure, and there’s clearly an argument that it’s also very timely: twisted and broken-sounding pop music for a twisted and broken era, replete with villains (the protagonist of In My View, a “greedy bugger”, actively enjoying not just the taste of his foie gras, but the cruelty of its manufacture) and lyrics that appear to swipe at nationalism and toxic masculinity, albeit obliquely. But equally, its strangeness feels less reactionary than internal: not so much the outcome of looking on, horrified, at the world in 2018 and trying to find a soundtrack, than the product of a band who inhabit a world of their own”.
IN THIS PHOTO: Young Father/PHOTO CREDIT: Julia Noni
I am certain Cocoa Sugar will be on the list of selected twelve – it is almost guaranteed to be among the shortlisted and frontrunners. Although Superorganism take their membership from various parts of the world; they formed and are based in London – they can be seen as a British band. I would think their album, Superorganism, is going to be included and I think it could be the album-to-beat alongside Young Fathers’ third L.P. Look at the choices I have selected so far and there is a lot of Pop and Rock in there. You get some synths and Indie shades in there but, largely, there are no Urban touches to be found. I am confident the likes of CHVRCHES, for Love Is Dead, will be among those getting the voting panel revved. Who would bet against Goat Girl getting Mercury recognition for their sublime debut, Goat Girl?! I have mentioned my love for Young Fathers but there is another proposition that could upset the odds: the marvellous duo of Let’s Eat Grandma. Their second album, I’m All Ears, is one of the best-received records of this year and a sure-fire Mercury nomination. The Sunday Times provided their view regarding the album:
“Norwich’s Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth were 17 in 2016, when they released I, Gemini, a dreamlike debut that captured the magical otherness of adolescence. Their second album is a fun, futuristic mix of alternative pop and dance music that sounds like the product of two young women going out and discovering the world”.
I have reviewed most of the albums I have mentioned so far – not biased or anything! – and can attest to their brilliance. Looking at other fresh releases and Boy Azooga come to mind. Their staggering gem, 1,2, Kung Fu!, is one of my favourite albums from this year. I am expecting Boy Azooga to be in the chasing pack and, in no way, an outsider. Although, again, we are not straying too far from Pop and Rock; 1,2, Kung Fu! goes through different emotions and stages. It is a record that I am in love with and would like to see scoop a lot of awards. A couple of artists who deserve to be on the list but might be on the borders of winning are Bryde and Kate Nash. The former is the moniker of Sarah Howells and her debut, Like an Island, turned a lot of heads. A sample review, from DORK, tells you all you need to know:
“Over the course of the record, Bryde juggles her mystical soundscapes and unapologetic guitars with pristine skill. There are moments of infectious beats and danceable choruses, of soft vocals and wisps of electronica. ‘Fast Awake’ is an energetic yet dark track, taking elements from Radiohead tracks ‘Bodysnatchers’ and ‘Myxomatosis’ in its powerful coalescence of haunting vocals and rapid percussion. Bryde invokes the ambience of Warpaint and emotion of Laura Marling in her impressive debut; namely in ‘Euphoria’, a piano-led ballad, and ‘To Be Loved’, a track saturated with power and ferocity”.
We are sporting so much brilliant talent in Britain right now – Bryde is among the very best out there right now. I could not give you any odds but, in bookie terms, she might be a 12/1 bet. Kate Nash is someone who has been kicking around music for a while and, again, another bright and brilliant London artist. Would the panel award the prize to a London artist after giving Sampha the gong last year?! I think Nash’s record, Yesterday Was Forever, departs from her previous record – 2013’s Girl Talk was not met with huge critical love – and her 2010’s My Best Friend Is You. We reviewed Kate Nash’s latest record for Too Many Blogs:
“This record definitely evokes the spirit of a teenage diary. Singing in her distinctive London accent, energy drips off this LP, with the now-thirty-year-old delivering a punchy, tongue-in-cheek yet sincere message about the ups and downs of life. Nash addresses issues such as mental health in riot-grrl-esque opener ‘Life in Pink’, which despite the gravitas topic of ‘thinking about death all the time’ still manages to infuse a sense of optimism and unity”.
It would be a good idea to keep your eyes open for Nash and Byrde because both have produced records that have fared well and received great reviews – even though both artists are in different stages of their careers!
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Nash
For a more Folk/Acoustic choice; you might want to consider River Matthews and his fantastic album, Imogen. Gorgeous songs like Fool for You and Sunshine sit in the head and swim in the blood. It might not be as urgent and spectacular as efforts by Superorganism but I wouldn’t bet against him being in the mind of the Mercury panel’s mind. I would also like to bring in Tom Misch and The Orielles for possible contenders. I love Misch’s Geography and, so too, do the critics. He has been making waves and made big strides since he came onto the scene. NME gave their views regarding Geography:
“On ‘Man Like You’ Misch shows he’s found a way to fit traditional instrumentation into a modern pop format, but elsewhere he seeks help in the form of some stellar collaborations. Multi-talented singer Poppy Ajudha guests on dance shuffle ‘Disco Yes’, while standout track ‘Water Baby’ sees him team up again with louche hip-hopper Loyle Carner (also from south London). ‘90s icons De La Soul are the heavyweight feature on ‘It Runs Through Me’ — a euphoric, riff-laden tribute to the power of music”.
The Orielles’ Silver Dollar Moment trips through their back catalogue and throws in some nice angles and unexpected moments. The Yorkshire band are hotshots who are proving to be one of the most reliable and delicious bands in Britain. I am confident they will get a nomination and be included among the bookies’ favourites. If you want two established British artists who could get a shout this year then maybe Franz Ferdinand and The Wombats will be included.
IN THIS PHOTO: The Orielles
Always Ascending and Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life (respectively) are not the best works from each band but both sold well and gained some positive reviews. They might be outside bets but, again, I would not be shocked to see these albums included when the nominations are made. I would like to see Django Django and Shame make the Mercury Music Prize list. The Guardian reviewed Django Django’s Marble Skies and highlighted its worth:
“…It’s impossibly lovely, one of those moments when Django Django seem more like alchemists than investigators. They may never make a perfect album – a certain unevenness seems inbuilt in their approach, where not every experiment turns out quite the way you might have hoped – but they’re capable of making music that sounds close to perfection“.
A couple of other possibilities lie with Jorja Smith's debut, Lost & Found and SOPHIE's OIL OF EVERY PEARL'S UN-INSIDES. Smith, in particular, has amazed me with her confidence and incredible authority - an artist who is primed for longevity and great things. She is able to let a song get into the heart, move through the blood and stay in the head for an awfully long time...a hard trick to pull off in the modern music climate! Shame, a band who stunned with their debut, Songs of Praise, is another big record that NEEDS to be in the longlist. Many were baffled last year when IDLES failed to get an inclusion for the Mercury with Brutalism. IDLES might redress that error when they release their sophomore album at the end of next month but we definitely need to see a Punk-flavoured record included among the frontrunners. A few of last year’s nominated names – Kate Tempest and Loyle Carner – wrote about the realities of Britain from a London perspective. The Shame guys are from South London, so many might think another winner from that neck of the woods might be taking things a bit far!
“‘Hey!’ – again back near the top – is a snarling, stomping rebel that has horns and avalanche-beats striding and strutting like a bad-ass mother-fucker. It is one of the best tracks on the album and one that reminds me of their debut. I mention it because as the final few tracks come to mind, I notice how far the band have come and how confident it all feels. ‘She’s Got Guns’ steps into hip-hop and rap more overtly than before with hints of Neneh Cherry during her ‘Buffalo Stance’ days, and ‘Getting Back Up’ is a finale that seems to unite ‘Mayday’ with ‘Semicircle Song’ in a grand showdown”.
It is another outside shot but I could well see that album included among the twelve that will be announced very shortly. The other albums I would like to see included are Florence + the Machine’s High as Hope; LUMP by LUMP; Jon Hopkins’ Singularity and Lily Allen’s No Shame. I feel a Lily Allen/Shame name-similar, London head-off might be a good battle. Laura Marling has been denied a Mercury award so I would like to see her (and Mike Lindsay).
I feel LUMP is the best shot at a nod because of the uniform positivity the record garnered. Whilst the other records did receive big love; I feel it the time for Laura Marling to receive her dues – and her wonderful partnership with Lindsay. The Line of Best Fit nailed the eponymous album perfectly:
“Lindsay’s experimental compositional style that has evolved through Tunng, Throws and producing other artists’ albums, brings out Marling’s assertive vocals. The last two songs in particular are full of breathy, mouth sounds. When Marling sings “Salt air is healing / Nakedness revealing / They go so well” on “Shake Your Shelter”, it is a beautiful summation of LUMP’s sound and message – an ambient, compelling and unique look into whether contemporary life really has to be so empty”.
I suspect Jon Hopkins is going to be this year’s equivalent of the ‘outsider’. You know the albums I mean, They might be Jazz-influenced or a bit out-there; not commercial enough or one of those records that demand proper attention. I feel, mind, if I were to compile a top-six I would have Hopkins’ record alongside Let's Eat Grandma; Field Music, Shame; LUMP and, maybe, Arctic Monkeys. That would be a varied and interesting camp where anything goes!
IN THIS PHOTO: LUMP (Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay (and 'LUMP')
What do my predictions show, then?! Well, for one, there is still a heavy leaning of male artists but, to be fair, more female inclusion than previous years. There is a lot of Pop and Rock in the list and a complete absence of anything too far-out and experimental. There are no controversial shouts – like Ed Sheeran from last year – but there is mainstream Pop in the form of Lily Allen and Kate Nash. Both of those artists have plenty of attitude and grit in their music – something the panel looks out for when deciding on their choices. My personal face-off would be between Field Music’s Open Here and LUMP’s LUMP. Maybe neither album will be longlisted or, if they are, neither will win. One never knows what to expect when it comes to the Mercury Music Prize. I feel Nadine Shah's Holiday Destination, released in August of last year, warrants inclusion on the longlist; Gaz Coombes' World's Strongest Man and Gwenno's Le Kov are all, too, deserving of inclusion on the list of twelve - there is plenty of hot competition and brilliant British bounty! Many are shouting against a pitch for Arctic Monkeys; others are calling for newcomers like Tom Misch to get a nomination. Whilst many best-of-the-year-so-far lists are putting American albums/artists near the top of their pieces; the selection of albums I have included in this piece show there is ample British brilliance. Who will win the Mercury is anyone’s guess but one thing is for sure…
WE have been spoiled for choice this year!