No Prizes for Guessing!
IN THIS IMAGE: The cover for IDLES’ 2018 album, Joy as an Act of Resistance (surely a shoe-in for the Mercury Prize shortlist?!)/IMAGE CREDIT: IDLES
Which Albums Will Make the Mercury Prize Shortlist?
WE are almost at the point…
IN THIS PHOTO: Nadine Shah (who many thought would win the 2018 Mercury Prize for Holiday Destination (released in 2017)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
when the best British and Irish albums from the past year are revealed. I am referring to the Mercury Prize shortlist announcement and, on 25th July, we will know which albums have made the cut. There is always debate and consternation when the shortlist is announced because, invariably, you cannot include all the best albums from 2018/2019 – there will be some that miss out and are overlooked! Last year’s shortlist was impressive and, whilst I expected Nadine Shah’s Holiday Destination to walk away with the award (she did too!), it actually went to Wolf Alice and Visions of a Life. How does an album/artist make the grade when it comes to Mercury Prize eligibility? The official website gives the guidelines:
“1.3 The album must have a digital release date between Saturday 21 July 2018 and Friday 19 July 2019 inclusive (although entries must be received by 15 May 2019). Entries received after 15 May 2019 will not be considered for the 2019 Mercury Prize.
1.4 The album must, as a minimum, be available to buy from at least two selected major UK digital retailers and/or to stream from at least two selected streaming services (please see cl. 5 of the full Terms & Conditions for the list of selected digital retailers and streaming services). The album may also be available to buy in other formats”.
That seems pretty set in stone and clear but there is one part of the rules that can confuse early betters and those making predictions: the fact that an album nomination has to have been received by 15th May. One recent album of the year contender, Thom Yorke’s ANIMA, has just been released and, whilst it is a digital album that sneaks under the wire, I do wonder whether anyone at the record company nominated the album ahead of time – will ANIMA be considered I wonder? Because of that, I am discounting Yorke’s latest record because I do feel like it is a bit too new to make the shortlist. Everyone will have their own views of the albums that will make the shortlist and I have divided my predictions into two categories: those outsiders that might be in with a shout and the more solid group that are likely to be included. It might sound odd I am starting with Fontaines D.C. and Dogrel as an outside bet but, in the past, not that many Irish acts have won the award – nor Welsh, for that matter. The Mercury goes to English acts more often than not but the only reason I am putting Fontaines D.C. on the longlist is because there are two albums, which I will get to, that are going to be odds-on to win this year. Dogrel is a remarkable album and it is one of the very best of 2019. I do think this year’s winner is going to be an album/artist that conveys a sense of anger and need for unification.
On 19th September at the Eventim Apollo, we will decide which album has won this year’s Mercury. I do think there are some albums that are in with a shot of nomination. Nina Nesbitt’s The Sun Will Come up, the Seasons Will Change received some great reviews and, whilst it has not garnered as much attention as some albums this year, it is a fantastic record that deserves to be in the mix. The same can be said of The Cinematic Orchestra and their album, To Believe. Released back in March, it is one of those albums that can be considered an outsider – as it is not as mainstream/commercial as other albums that will be on the shortlist. It is a remarkable record and this is how CLASH reviewed To Believe:
“In the now crowded field of acts combining neo-classical jazz with electronic sensibilities, genre progenitors The Cinematic Orchestra remain a band apart.
There’s an elegance to their music that marks them out, a gracefulness that has grown in their 11-year absence.
Where previous albums soared high, ‘To Believe’ glides low. Jason Swinscoe and co. revel in restraint, eschewing big statements in favour of weaving intricate patterns.
A core message for hope in a fragile world (delivered via singers like Moses Sumney and Tawiah) completes this delicate musical tapestry perfectly, resulting in a quietly triumphant comeback from the British masters”.
I do think Grime and Hip-Hop will be, like last year, very much in the running but, when it comes to Skepta and Ignorance Is Bliss. His album did get some good reviews but some felt there were half-measures and it was not as engrossing as some of his earliest work. There are some tremendous tracks on the album but I do feel that Ignorance Is Bliss, if it is on the shortlist, is unlikely to be among the favourites. I will mention a couple more albums that are underground delights and two you can add now are Musica Alla Puttanesca by Madonnatron and Queen Zee by Queen Zee. I am a big fan of Madonnatron and they are gathering pace right now; getting their music played on some big radio stations and turning heads as they go. I do think it is a long-short Madonnatron will be shortlisted but you never know! A band who are producing something wonderful and weird are Liverpool’s Queen Zee. Their eponymous album has been going down a storm. Here is how The Line of Best Fit judged Queen Zee:
“This record marks the first, bold step towards carving their legacy – even if that means breaking a guitar and a few bones on the way. With an orb of garish proto-punk firmly grasped in one hand and a sceptre of solidarity and bravery in the other, this is the coronation of a band who have waded through gender dysphoria and homophobia, only to emerge the other side as icons for the ideology they represent.
Queen Zee are here to put on a show that incites a mushroom cloud of anarchy, frazzling your brains with a shock of colour in a genre defined by mawkish men in black. This debut album proves that even in the studio, Queen Zee know how to put on a show. The album opens with a two—second hesitance, and that is all the mercy you’re afforded – from that point on, you are plunged at a neck-breaking speed into anarchic world. You won’t have the chance to gasp for air again”.
I am a huge fan of Billie Marten and her music and, whilst I feel Feeding Seahorses by Hand warrants a Mercury nod, it might be a bit of a stretch. That is a shame because Marten’s writing is incredibly mature and developed (she is still a teenager) and her voice is exquisite. Her 2016 debut, Writing of Blues and Yellows, was a revelation and was a very personal record: her 2019 follow-up is more varied in terms of themes and covers politics, self-doubt and the experience of the city. I do think her album merits recognition but I feel Lucy Rose and No Words Left is a safer contender. Released through Communion Records back in March, I love what Lucy Rose is doing and think she is worth a bet. Not many albums in the Folk genre have won the Mercury lately and, as more Hip-Hop and Rap steps into the spotlight, I do not think 2019 is a year where we will see things change in that respect – not that this is a bad thing, as such.
IN THIS PHOTO: Lucy Rose/PHOTO CREDIT: Harry Wade
I feel Sleaford Mods’ Eton Alive is an album that is worth a bet, too. It might not be in the top-ten but I think the Mercury Prize offers surprises every year so you cannot discount Sleaford Mods. The latest record from Nottingham’s Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn is business-as-usual: political statements, great jokes and some cutting jibes. This is NME’s assessment of Eton Alive:
“So there are no great state of the nation addresses here, but there are good stand-up routines about running scams in manual jobs (‘Discourse’), ingratiating yourself with someone else’s family (‘Subtraction’) and having one more bin than the Council has allocated (‘Policy Cream’). For the most part, ‘Eton Alive’ sounds politicised only because we’re now so unaccustomed to hearing people from council estates make popular music that isn’t aspirational. There’s a reason the video for ‘Kebab Spider’ depicts uncouth blokes chanting.
Fearn’s arrangements are more sophisticated than ever before, the bassy groove of ‘Big Burt’ (“Shelling out 1500 pound to see an ‘asbeen who can’t even do three gigs in one go – what’s that?) sounding like an actual song. And ‘Top It Up’, with an ominous synth line, veers into art-pop territory. This indicates the polish that success has afforded Sleaford Mods (on ‘OBCT’ Williamson admits he lives “in a house three times the size of my old one” and drives past “Oliver Bonas in the Chelsea tractor”). But they’ve not changed. They’re still taking the piss.
Sometimes a joke starts wearing thin, but goes on so long that it comes back around. And ‘Eton Alive’ is a pretty great punchline. Not everything has to be escapist or explicitly political – sometimes you just want to hear people make gags about a world that you recognise. It’s cathartic, it’s entertaining. It says: you exist. ‘Eton Alive’ makes Sleaford Mods funny again”.
The last few names I am nominating display a breadth of textures and genres but, again, maybe 2019 will not be their year. Ezra Collective are rising and popular at the moment and, on You Can’t Steal My Joy, they are producing music that is essential, original and striking. This is The Guardian’s review of their latest record:
“While this generic meandering might seem jarring, Ezra Collective make it part of their ethos – a patchwork celebration of jazz’s enduring diversity. The collective’s strengths come in its longstanding telepathic musicianship with highlights on jazz-leaning instrumentals such as King of the Jungle and Shakara, featuring Kokoroko. The record is a joyous listen, which will only be enhanced on their forthcoming tour, and a confident assertion of Ezra Collective breaking out of the once-restrictive jazz enclave”.
Although Loyle Carner was nominated for the Mercury in 2017 for his debut, Yesterday’s Gone (2017), I do not think his follow-up, Not Waving, but Drowning, will be in the pack. It is an accomplished album but not quite as heady, revelatory and acclaimed as his debut. The reviews have been largely positive but I do think judges will be looking elsewhere when it comes to the shortlist this year – which is a shame because I feel like Yesterday’s Gone deserved the Mercury in 2017 (Sampa’s Process won that year). The final name I will put in the ‘outsiders’ list is The Chemical Brothers. One might feel any album from them should be taken seriously and, whilst No Geography is one of 2019’s very best, I do wonder whether it will make the selected shortlist of twelve. Like Folk, Electronica has not scooped a Mercury Prize for some time and I think something Post-Punk/Hip-Hop-scented will win this year. In any case, No Geography has been collecting rave reviews. Here is Pitchfork’s viewpoint:
“Still, despite featuring some of the strongest and most straightforward singles of their surprisingly successful last decade, No Geography is best consumed as a front-to-back experience. Most of its 10 songs flow into each other as separate suites, the opening trio forming a perpetual build not unlike Boredoms’ Vision Creation Newsun before blasting off with the splashy drums and Drive-redolent synths of the title track. The centerpiece and closer—respectively, the lovely yawns of “Gravity Drops” and the squiggly comedown “Catch Me I’m Falling”—exist as breathers amid No Geography’s perpetual exhilaration”.
Which twelve albums will be in the shortlist for this year’s Mercury’s Prize?! I will include thirteen names – because I am annoying that way – but these are the albums that are more likely to be nominated. First up is The Comet Is Coming and Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery. I think every year we get one Jazz record and something more out-there. The Mercury Prize has been accused of tokenism and ignoring certain genres but I do feel like The Comet Is Coming will be included. AllMusic were impressed by Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery:
“Blood of the Past" is darker, tenser, and freer, given added dimension via the apocalyptic poetry of guest Kate Tempest. An airy intro gives way to skittering, urgent, dubby electro funk in "Super Zodiac." "Timewave Zero" enters from the margins in a soundscape at once cinematic and intimate before articulating a fusion of spiritual jazz-funk, dancehall rhythms, and punky grime. "The Universe Wakes Up" closes the set and atmospherically evokes the spirits of the Coltranes as CIC attempt to reach beyond the heavens. Hutchings' circular breathing underscores the aggressive pulse of the rhythm section. Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery is urgent, sophisticated, and humorous. It actually delivers the music of tomorrow via the traditions of past and present; it's a convulsive exercise in the articulation of inner and outer space”.
IN THIS PHOTO: Lewis Capaldi/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
If Jazz offerings from the past have not walked away with the Mercury, the same cannot be said of Pop. One name that is on the tongues of many is Lewis Capaldi. The Scottish artist is definitely capturing hearts and, off the back of a successful set at Glastonbury this year, would one bet again Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent being named as a contender?! It is his debut album – the Mercury judges love a good debut! – and Capaldi has definitely been exposed nicely and is pretty much everywhere you look! Some balked when Ed Sheeran was nominated in 2017 for % but I think Capaldi is in with a shot. Again, it is unlikely to be the winner. Look at the last few years and we have seen other genres dominate. I think it will take years for this to change and, as we have award ceremonies like the BRITs celebrating Pop, the Mercury Prize is unlikely to be too commercial when it comes to its winners. I would desperately love Neneh Cherry (I know she is Swedish but I believe she holds a British passport, making her eligible) to be in the top-five names for this year’s Mercury because Broken Politics (released last October), her fifth solo album, is a belter. Laura Snapes’ review for The Guardian shows why Broken Politics is an album one cannot ignore:
“Poignancy has accumulated at 54 – an age her voice carries beautifully. “Don’t live for nostalgia, but the impact of everything resonates,” she sings on Synchonised Devotion. Cherry still has “an allergy to my realness, like my own self-worth”, she sings on Natural Skin Deep – a simmering, almost angry outlier – but refuses to give into it: “Don’t have anywhere to go / Nowhere to hide / All of me is now.” Cherry’s sage perspective weaves through these tender, bristling tracks, and elevates Broken Politics from being simply a beautiful record to a revelatory one. “Just because I’m down, don’t step all over me,” she warns on Fallen Leaves, and promises to remain open to risk and common sense: an admirably holistic approach to a shattered world”.
I do think albums that reflect the modern world and dig deeper than you average Pop fare will resonate with the Mercury judges. For that reason, I think The 1975 are definite favourites with their critically-lauded album, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships. Released back in November, it is a truly stunning album that drew comparisons to Radiohead’s OK Computer. I think The 1975 are releasing another album soon but I would be surprised if A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships failed to make the shortlist for this year’s Mercury Prize – considering it was voted one of the best albums from last year and got five-star reviews from so many sources. This year has been incredibly strong in terms of female artists. I think this dominance will continue and, when we consider the Mercury shortlist possibilities, artists like Self Esteem need to be on the mind. The moniker of Rebecca Lucy Taylor, her Compliments Please album is a stunning work that proves Taylor is one of this country’s best songwriters. Drowned in Sound had this to say when reviewing Compliments Please back in March:
“We haven’t even touched on the total command that Taylor has over those big diva moments in the album; or the perfect lacy cherry icing that the violins add; or the incredibly balanced pace between slow-burning ballads and Beyoncé-worthy bangers; or just the salacious rhythm on tunes like ‘Rollout’ or ‘Wrestling’. Granted, Taylor knows that she’s a white chick borrowing tricks from folks of colour, and she doesn’t shirk from that; the skits in between feature the monologues of black men and women, which in turn reflect back to Taylor’s own narrative of seeking and carving out independence. Is that equalising two struggles that may not necessarily be equal? Or are these skits free-standing parts to a well-intentioned, all-inclusive tribute? I’d like to give it to the latter.
At any rate, I digress. The point I want to hammer in is that Compliments Please delights me more and more with each spin - in part because the tunes are solid, but also because the heart and the intentions underneath are solid, too. Pop artists don’t have to stick to the same ol’ lovesick schmooze to land a hit, damn it. If we can rewire girls’ heads to value independence and their own ambition with a flourish of sassy strings, then I say let’s hijack the radio and get this party started.
Before coming to the five names that I think will definitely be shortlisted and among the bookies’ favourites, I want to bring in a few more albums that are worth investigation and consideration. Foals’ Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1 has not scored massive reviews across the board but I do think the band is on a roll right now and, after a Glastonbury set that inflamed and delighted, I think they will be on the minds of Mercury judges. I am in two minds as to whether AJ Tracey will be in the elite group of nominees. On the one hand, he has produced a sensational eponymous album and he is a hot talent. Singles Psych Out and Ladbroke Grove are two of the strongest from this year and, alongside Dave and slowthai, AJ Tracey is one of Britain’s finest Hip-Hop artists.
IN THIS PHOTO: AJ Tracey/PHOTO CREDIT: Mike Prior
I know his debut has been getting a lot of buzz and AJ Tracey will be a future headliner, for sure. Maybe it is a bit early in his career to get a Mercury nod but, as we know, debuts are always considered and one cannot rule out AJ Tracey. The other artist who I think will be nominated but not necessarily but mixing it with the top names is James Blake. He has been Mercury-nominated before - in 2011 for his eponymous debut – so who is to say Assume Form will miss out? I actually think Blake’s fourth album is his most complete and memorable so, for that reason, I do hope to see it among the nominated dozen. I do think that, as I keep saying, certain genres will be favoured and the judges are going to go for albums that are less personal and more political, perhaps. Maybe that will not come to pass but this year is a divided and stressful one so I feel the panel will look for an album that reflects the divisions and tries to make sense of everything. Of course, there are always albums you forget or do not expect to get shortlisted that make the cut – I am sure there are a few that I will be kicking myself about! In terms of those frontrunners, again, I might need to put a star by two albums which, whilst released recently, maybe the label did not submit them to the Mercury judges/panel in time. I also forgot to mention Kate Tempest’s recent album, The Book of Traps and Lessons. It was released a few weeks ago so, whilst it definitely should be among the shortlisted, has it arrived too late?! Tempest, again, has been nominated so few would be surprised if it were to happen this year – and it would be richly deserved for what is a stark, gorgeous and highly-praised album.
This brings me to the albums/artists, I feel, cannot help escape the attention of the judges. I should probably start with those two albums I mentioned which might have missed the cut-off but one suspects will be shoe-ins for shortlisting: slowthai’s Nothing Great About Britain and Cate Le Bon’s Reward. The former was released on 17th May through Method so one feels that, by sneaking in perilously close to the submission date, it has to be in the mix and will be one of the shortlisted twelve! Cate Le Bon’s new album was released on 24th May so one feels that it will also get through and the label (Mexican Summer) have submitted it. Both albums have gained massive reviews and are very different works. Le Bon’s Reward is a deeper, more nuanced work whereas I think slowthai has released a more immediate album. I do think both will be among the favourites and, in a strong field, either album could win the prize. Make sure you check out both albums but, when considering slowthai’s Nothing Great About Britain, CLASH had the following to say:
“slowthai’s particular brand of rap is uncompromising and cutting. His bars are infused with punk pastiche and poetry, possessing an underlying and ever-present charm. As he dances between exasperated, affecting and vulnerable lyrics, a certain degree of innocence and hope emerges from the rubble of angst that surrounds the Midlands MC. There is a certain therapeutic temperament to this record, both vital and resplendent in nature, transcending most ideals and beliefs and resonating with most of us mere mortals.
This compelling and provocative record is a haunting echo of a seemingly hopeless vignette of Britain today, where slowthai offers the slightest glimmer of optimism for a potentially brighter future. slowthai is the unexpected hero for the people we didn’t know we needed, but so many, justly deserve”.
The Line of Best Fit, when they were reviewing Reward, highlighted Le Bon’s unique textures and edge:
“Tracks like the ultramodern “Mother’s Mother’s Magazines” swaggers with billowy sax bursts while “Here It Comes Again” is an ode to Nico if there ever was. But while Le Bon brought in a number of other collaborators such as Kurt Vile, H. Hawkline, and Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa, Reward stands as a labyrinth into Le Bon’s stately and riveting mind. “You Don’t Love Me”’s minimalist output serves as an avant-garde trip – exotic at times, with horns, and woodblock knocks.
Nevertheless, to be welcomed into Le Bon’s world serves as quite the ride and right now, no one’s producing what she’s creating”.
As mentioned, there will be albums I have overlooked and I know, when it comes to Jazz, Electronic and Pop artists, there are bound to be a few artists that will surprise you – will the fresh-out-of-the-oven album from Hot Chip (A Bath Full of Ecstasy) have been considered or have they released a pearl a bit too late for inclusion?! Everyone will have their own views but, to me, there are three albums that are the ones to beat.
I will wait until the end to reveal the album I think will win this year’s Mercury but there are two artists who have released glorious albums in 2019 that warrant a fair shot. Dave’s PSYCHODRAMA is among the best albums of this year and I am a particularly big fan of his. He is able to articulate the realities of modern Britain and its problems; the experiences of the black population in this country but he also gets personal and provides some hugely emotional moments. You’d have to go out of your way to find a reviewer who has not given PSYCHODRAMA a hearty thumbs-up and hugely positive review. It is one of the most daring and crucial albums we have seen in a very long time and, if it did win the Mercury Prize, it would be a popular choice…and it would be an important moment at a time when black artists are still being overlooked. The Guardian, in their review of PSYCHODRAMA, highlighted the contrasts and twists that makes the album so spectacular and fresh:
“Despite the presence of hit-making producer Fraser T Smith – who progressed from knocking together the pop-rap singles that brought Tinchy Stryder success a decade ago to helming Stormzy’s Gang Signs & Prayer – the album’s sound is spare and sullen, its beats lightly decorated with moody piano figures and ghostly snatches of warped vocals, its tone unsparingly downbeat and sombre. Even the most pop-facing track, the ostensibly romantic Voices, comes replete with intimations of paranoia and mental illness. There are chinks of light about the music on Purple Heart, or the Drake-esque Location, but you’d never describe them as party-starting bangers.
Moreover, those tracks serve largely as a brief moment of respite between plunges into bleak, street-level reportage. Streatham casts an unsentimental eye over the rapper’s youth; Screwface Capital starts out swaggering about success and sexual prowess, but becomes increasingly dark and despairing, unable to shake off the ghosts of the past, before the lyrics crash to a halt. The last minute and a half is entirely instrumental, given over to a haunting, jazzy keyboard solo, as if the rapper can’t face talking any more.
On the face of it, Psychodrama seems a strange way to go about achieving the latter: unvarnished and emotionally raw, it frequently makes for tough listening. Equally, as a showcase for Dave’s talents, it unquestionably works. His lyrics are smart, thoughtful, unflinching and self-aware. In a world where artists seem terrified of their audience hitting the fast-forward button, of skipping to the next song on the streaming service playlist, it’s a big ask to confront listeners with an 11-minute rap track, especially when the subject matter is as unremittingly grim as that of Lesley, but it’s genuinely gripping. Indeed, it says something about how incisive Dave is as a writer that the album lasts for the best part of an hour, and not a minute of its running time seems wasted or padded out. The end result is certainly the boldest album to emerge from UK hip-hop’s renaissance. It may also be the best. However big its ambitions, Dave has the talent to fulfil them”.
IN THIS PHOTO: Little Simz/PHOTO CREDIT: Jack Bridgland
Dave is a definite favourite in my view but he faces stiff competition from the wonderful Little Simz. Like PSYCHODRAMA, GREY Area has been greeted with explosive reviews and passion from all corners. Little Simz is one of these artists I can see headlining major festivals because she has that gravitas and incredible talent that is hard to deny. The past few years have seen a fair few London rappers/Hip-Hop artists get shortlisted – including Skepta, Loyle Carner and Kate Tempest – and this year will be no different. The judges would be foolish to overlook these bold and truthful records at a time when music is providing greater popularity, trust and faith than our politicians. Critics were, as mentioned, blown away by GREY Area. Here is NME’s review:
“The record swells with pride, and Simbi’s celebration of her sense of worth is catching. See opening track, ‘Offence’, where she reminds us that she’s back again and has to pick up where she left off before (“I said it with my chest / I don’t care who I offend – uh huh!”). Her unapologetic words, coupled with that vicious beat, make you feel unbreakable, and set the tone for the journey you’re about to embark on.
On ‘Flowers’, the final track, Simz wonders if the ambition she has for herself – wanting to be legendary and iconic – comes with darkness. Here, she reflects on her idols, such as Amy Winehouse and Jimi Hendrix, and ruminates on their dizzying highs, but tragic endings. It’s a indication of the mindset she was in while writing ‘Grey Area’; the north London powerhouse was going through a dark time, which became pivotal in her creative process. You can hear this free-flowing energy – up and down– that runs through the album.
Across these 10 tracks, Simz utilises her most valuable commodity: honesty. Having stripped away the narrative cloak that shrouded the highlights of ‘Stillness In Wonderland’, she’s crafted a knockout record – and finally come true on her early promise. This is the best rap record of the year so far”.
There was a lot of confusion last year when the shortlisted Mercury albums were announced. Many felt IDLES’ Brutalism was overlooked and should have been included. That album was released on 10th March, 2017 so should have been one of the shortlisted albums for 2017’s ceremony - but that was not to be. As Joy as an Act of Resistance was released on 31st August, 2018, there is nothing to stop the album getting the nod this year! I think it would be the biggest error and oversight if Joy as an Act of Resistance was omitted so, to me, it seems like a guarantee. Not only do I think shortlisted but it will win the Mercury. IDLES are on fire right now and are getting fiercer and stronger by the moment. Whilst many would argue they do not need the prize money given – many favour smaller artists winning so they can use the money to fund recording – and are not short of adulation, the Mercury Prize needs to reflect quality in addition to giving a nod to a new artist who would otherwise have been missed by award ceremonies. Wolf Alice won last year and, whereas the judges might go in a different sonic direction this year, I feel Joy as an Act of Resistance is the most deserving of the Mercury. Is it my favourite album from 2018 and I know IDLES have a wonderful, long future ahead of them.
I will end my section about IDLES with a couple of review snippets but, in terms of what they are saying in interviews, we should all be listening. Led by the inspirational Joe Talbot, here is a band that are saying something real and genuinely want to see a change in the world. As this article from last year explores, the band are bringing people together and helping those vulnerable; those who might feel they do not have a voice and are not listened to:
“‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’ is a record that champions vulnerability, openness and community, and these threads also sit at the heart of the show. Joe dedicates ‘Danny Nedelko’ to the immigrants that make this country a better place, with the titular man in question bursting out on stage at its finale, while ‘Divide & Conquer’ is introduced as an ode to the NHS.
In speaking to the band’s most devoted fans - a clan growing at great pace with each passing day - it’s clear that in laying their deepest fears and vulnerabilities on the line in songs, IDLES are one of the country’s most potent voices, forging the kind of connection only achieved once in a generation. AF Gang member Helen Reade can attest to this more than most.
“What they’re saying is what we really need to hear right now,” she explains before the show. “My partner passed away of cancer at quite a young age, and we have two children. When I first heard ‘Brutalism’, and heard that visceral grief, and that absolute internal rage that I couldn’t articulate - because I had to look after two kids - it just connected, and it became a daily routine. ‘I can get through my day, and I can cope with everything, if I listen to this album, because this person, whoever he is, understands where I’m coming from.’
Alongside Little Simz, Dave and slowthai, IDLES have released the most important album of the past couple of years – that’s what I think anyway. Apart from a few less-than-empathic reviews for Joy as an Act of Resistance (Pitchfork, I’m looking at you!), there has been so much love out there for the Bristol boys. When The Quietus reviewed IDLES’ sophomore album, they were full of praise:
“Bolstered by a rout of incendiary drives from bassist Adam Devonshire, guitarists Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan, and drummer Joe Beavis, the overarching missive here is to brace grief, connect, push forward and, above all else, learn to love oneself. And yet, it’s in those bursts, when Talbot picks apart the cul-de-sac cunts whose idea of self-actualization means owning a 50” TV, that often lands the biggest punch.
Striving to see the good in things when one-time reference points to surety and stability are taken away takes not just a considerable amount of mettle: it demands an immense faith in one’s fellow world citizen, whether they reside next door, down the road or beyond Blighty’s beloved seashore. Guided by his friends and fellow punk conquistadors in Idles, as a lyricist, Talbot has just elevated himself to the ranks of craftsman by ensuring that the sheer currency of vulnerability, and the unkillable spirit of community, is threaded throughout JAAAOR. With it, as distilled via his closing call to sense on the album’s closing peak ‘Rottweiler’, Idles take their rightful place as not Britain’s, nor Europe’s, but the world’s most vital band”.
DIY were similarity stunned by IDLES’ remarkable album:
“When your world falls apart, you find new ways to make sense of what remains, and ‘Joy As An Act of Resistance’ does that through warmth and humour, openness and honesty. Across its 12 tracks, it runs the full gamut of emotions. ‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’ is hilarious and sarcastic, perfectly encapsulating the small-town macho types running on too much booze and testosterone (“Me oh me oh my, Roy / You look like a walking thyroid”). ‘I’m Scum’ up-ends the insults thrown at liberal lefties in righteous fashion, culminating in the snarled crescendo of “this snowflake’s an avalanche”. On the cathartic purge of album closer ‘Rottweiler’, meanwhile, the band whip up a tornado of joyous noise as Joe yells the album to a close: “Keep fucking going! Smash it! Destroy the world! Burn your house down!”
Across its 40-odd minutes, ‘Joy As An Act of Resistance’ makes you want to laugh and cry and roar into the wind and cradle your nearest and dearest. It is a beautiful slice of humanity delivered by a group of men whose vulnerability and heart has become a guiding light in the fog for an increasing community of fans who don’t just want, but need this. No hyperbole needed; IDLES are the most important band we have right now”.
I do feel like IDLES deserve the Mercury because Joy as an Act of Resistance is the strongest album from the past year and they are definitely humble – the album would not be taken lightly and I know the prize money would be used for good.
On 25th July, this year’s shortlisted albums will be announced and, true to form, people will have their opinions and grumbles. There are only a dozen albums allowed on the list so one cannot please everyone! I have chosen the outside albums that are in with a chance and another group that, I feel, are a more sure bet. I know I have missed some obvious albums (I will kick myself when I realise) and there are those underground albums that get the nod – the ones you might not even know about. There is always debate and criticism that comes down to whether new/underground artists get enough exposure; whether the winning artists deserve the award and money and whether there is enough range regarding genres – not a lot of Metal and Folk making the shortlist. I have argued for a broader shortlist in future years (maybe fifteen names) but I still think you run up against issues whatever you do. Maybe my predictions or off and maybe we will see a whole host of other artists shortlisted but I am pretty confident; I definitely think this is IDLES’ year and, if they are not even shortlisted, I might need to hold an enquiry and see what is going on at Mercury Prize H.Q.! I feel like the Mercury Prize is a great event and it (winning the award) is a big thing for an artist; that recognition and sense of elevation. Before we hear the winner announced on 19th September.
Every year’s Mercury shortlist/award-winner provokes questions and, writing in reaction to last year’s Wolf Alice win, The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis explained the problem:
“This year’s offered not even a vague pretence of covering a wide range of music: its two jazz entries aside, it was a narrow sampling of albums from the mainstream or, at best, a couple of inches to the left of it. The chairman of the judges, Radio 2 and BBC 6Music controller Jeff Smith, found himself presiding over a list substantially less eclectic than the output of either of his stations: no folk music, nothing avant garde, nothing from the spectrum of hard rock, no modern classical, not even any dance music. The quality of the shortlisted entries ranged from overhyped to pretty good to unequivocally excellent, but there were no curveballs, nothing to frighten the horses, nothing you wouldn’t already know about if you had been keeping abreast of a broadsheet newspaper’s music pages
The problem with a limited shortlist is that it can reflect back on the eventual winner: there’s more value in being first out of a wildly varied and intriguing selection of albums than there is in being first out of a limited and predictable list”.
I do think this year’s shortlist will be broader and reflect a wider spectrum but, when it comes to selecting the best of British, let’s hope common sense prevails. That might be a subjective statement but, regarding the albums that deserve the Mercury Prize the most, I have…
IN THIS PHOTO: Self Esteem (Rebecca Lucy Taylor)/PHOTO CREDIT: Mathew Parri Thomas
MY own predictions.