It’s the most respected music honour in Britain which divides everyone from fans to critics to bands. No, we’re not talking about Popjustice’s Twenty Quid Music Prize, but the Mercury Prize. Every year a select group of judges sits down and argues out which are the best British albums of the year. Getting on the shortlist is considered to be an impressive achievement in itself. Winning the award can launch a career. The beauty of the Mercury Prize is its ability to combine some of the best known names in British music with bands who have struggled to reach a wider audience into one list where they get to fight it out equally. So, in order of their current William Hill odds to win it, who got the nomination nod this year?
Damon Albarn – ‘Everyday Robots’ 4/1
Blur were nominated twice for the award for ‘Parklife’ and ‘13’ but lost out to M People and Talvin Singh respectively. It would be unfair to suggest that notoriety alone is the reason for Albarn’s nomination. His first solo album show a musical maturity that have characterised his later projects. Albarn’s versatility is evidence of his worth of an award such as this. ‘Everyday Robots’ showcases his ability to use sounds and samples, taken from other musical traditions, and bring them together to great effect. This is nowhere more apparent than on the albums opener which is built around a hypnotic violin sample. Another highlight includes Albarn’s collaboration with Natasha Khan (a.k.a Bat for Lashes) on ‘The Selfish Giant’.
Royal Blood – ‘Royal Blood’ 4/1
Considered by William Hill, along with Damon Albarn, to be the most likely to win it, Royal Blood are the most boring group to be considered for the award. The two man band are a kind of The Black Keys/Arctic Monkeys amalgamation who have captured the hearts and minds of Jake Bugg fans probably. A win would be thoroughly undeserved given that the album is entirely forgettable and not even remotely enjoyable.
Kate Tempest – ‘Everybody Down’ 6/1
South Londoner Kate Tempest has been taking the world of poetry slam by storm for quite a while. Easily bridging the gap between rap and poetry, ‘Everybody Down’ is the realest piece of social critique you will hear this year, set in the story of a relationship between two people. The beats are background noise as Tempest’s lyrics are what take centre stage and bring the album alive. It’s easily comparable to the previously Mercury nominated ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’ by The Streets.
Kate Tempest plays the o2 Academy, Oxford on 7th November
Bombay Bicycle Club – ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ 6/1
The fourth effort from the boys of Bombay Bicycle Club is one of the more obvious entries on the list. The band have slowly risen to the forefront of British indie music, developing their sound from the obvious guitar/drums combination on their debut ‘I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose’. Singles like ‘Luna’ have shown this to great effect, combining natural song writing ability with a more holistic sound, whilst ‘Eyes Like You’ proves that they do heartbreaking better than anyone else at the moment. Not to mention that ‘Feel’ allows one to come up with any number of dance routines.
You can read our review of the Bombay Bicycle Club album here
Nick Mulvey – ‘First Mind’ 7/1
Nick Mulvey’s guitar playing is akin to something you’d expect to hear at a classical concert, such is the complex talent displayed on ‘First Mind’. Having been previously part of the Portico Quartet, Mulvey is no stranger to the Mercury, as that group were nominated in 2008. Despite this, ‘First Mind’ fails to really take root on initial listens. In many ways, it feels like Mulvey’s talents in musicianship lay more in instrumentation than songwriting.
Nick Mulvey plays the o2 Academy, Oxford on 12th October
FKA Twigs – ‘LP1’ 7/1
It’s a good job the Mercury Prize doesn’t judge based on album titles because FKA Twigs wouldn’t be getting any marks for originality. Although, neither would Royal Blood or Jungle for that matter. ‘LP1’ is the overtly R n B album on the shortlist but it encompasses so much more than that, blending elements of hip hop and jazz, whilst showcasing ethereal vocals. ‘Two Weeks’ is the best example of this, with the pulsing bass beat giving it the feel of understated pop. Not to mention her recent Radio 1 Live Lounge cover of Sam Smith’s ‘Stay With Me’ completely turned the song on its head. Incredible really, because according to the internet she should be best known for being rumoured as dating Robert Pattinson.
Jungle – ‘Jungle’ 8/1
Jungle are the third band on the Mercury shortlist who were also shortlisted for the BBC Sound of 2014 award (along with FKA Twigs and Royal Blood). Originally hiding behind a veil of anonymity as ‘J’ and ‘T’ respectively, the two founders of the band Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland create a brand of soul music which is rarely heard in British music. The whirrs of sirens and squeal of tyres that feature in their songs capture an urban city feel whilst their sporadic use of chords add a psychedelic vibe to the music.
East India Youth – ‘Total Strife Forever’ 8/1
You won’t be able to do justice to listening to East India Youth on any speakers or headphones you own. To truly appreciate East India Youth, it is necessary to go and see William Doyle live and feel the bass vibrate through every inch of your body. It is a spell binding experience. Specialising in electronica, he is at his most entrancing with his instrumentals as the beats layer over each other. Tracks like ‘HEAVEN, HOW LONG’ are more initially accessible but Doyle’s voice feels weak in comparison to his backing. The allusion to Foals’ second album ‘Total Life Forever’ is also amusing.
Young Fathers – ‘DEAD’ 8/1
Young Fathers describe themselves as a ‘psychedelic hip hop boy band’ which is probably the best description of any band ever. The Edinburgh trio enthusiastically capitalised their song titles on ‘DEAD’, just like East India Youth did. Capitalisation was clearly the key to nomination this year. The album is a versatile combination of quick bits of rap and catchy choruses which use electronica and pop hooks to great effect. Plus, you can ever so occasionally hear the hint of a Scottish accent which is quite entertaining.
Polar Bear – ‘In Each and Every One’ 10/1
‘In Each and Every One’ is the most outwardly jazz based album on the list, although Anna Calvi can definitely make a claim on that. The instrumental album is insistent at times with howling brass and pounding drums whilst calmer at others with ‘Two Storms’ just starting quietly with layered scales. Polar Bear were nominated before back in 2005 but they were quite an outside shot and will be again this year. As one of the albums you’re unlikely to have heard prior to the release of the shortlist, this one is worth a listen.
Anna Calvi – ‘One Breath’ 10/1
She’s recently announced she’ll be touring in support of Morrissey in the next couple of months whilst she used to babysit Tom Waits’ kids. Anna Calvi knows how to mix with rock music’s success stories, and she sorely deserves to be one herself. ‘One Breath’ is her second release after her very impressive eponymous debut. A strong, operatic vocal style, Calvi gives a jazz twist to many of her songs, although she’s not to be pigeonholed. Recent single ‘Piece by Piece’ starts with the sound of orchestra tuning up before launching into a pop beat. Anna Calvi is not a woman to be underestimated. ‘One Breath’ takes you on a twisting and turning journey which makes the album very hard to pin down.
GoGo Penguin – ‘v2.0’ 10/1
The final shortlisted act are a piano trio from Manchester. Whist this might not sound like the most captivating group on paper, the fast playing is hugely impressive. A subtle drum beat that runs through most of their music gives the songs an impetus that piano music can sometimes lack. The chords used are beautiful and convey more feeling than the majority of lyricists are able to. This is likely to be on my revision playlist for quite a while.
So there you have it. All 12 shortlisted acts in order of who according to the bookies is most likely to win. Who would you like to see win? Who do you think was snubbed from the list? Let us know! The winner of the Mercury Prize will be announced on 29th October.