Like most people at the time of announcing the nominees, I found myself going ‘who?’ to half or more of the list, and like most people interested in the Mercury Prize, I went and listened to the others. That is essentially the main benefit of being nominated; there is a jump in sales for everyone and unsurprisingly, for the winner even more so. There seems to lurk a question as to the validity of the award as it only includes acts that are considered ‘home grown’, in an effort to promote local music in the UK and Ireland. The trend of winners is hard to predict, with the unheard of act topping the others on numerous occasions (Speech Debelle in 2009 being one). Showing that age, race, genre or marketing appeal isn’t an issue for success, should the Mercury prize be held in a higher regard?
It’s debatable as the inception of the ‘M’ awards was thought of by label executives and of course their intentions were good. Established by the British Phonographic Industry and British Association of Record Dealers in 1992 as an alternative to the BRIT awards which they also formed. The ‘BPI’, being an umbrella group for hundreds of record companies including the top four, it seems, have their fingers on both pulses and buttons. Upon discovering this, one may feel a little duped, however that’s the music industry for you. Maybe it’s not what it seems and the award will further the careers of many but for sponsorship purposes it’s now referred to as the ‘Barclaycard Mercury Prize’.
In terms of genre representation, there does seem to be a growing trend of alternative/folk/indie entrants compared to the ‘’Brit Pop 90s’’ and I think that depicts the music trends of late. Brit Pop is still awaiting a new messiah and I don’t feel The Vaccines are the answer, no matter how hard NME tries to swing the public. Heavier music and indeed bands tend to shy away from entering in lieu of the Kerrang awards. Understandably so, as their ethos is ‘two fingers to acceptance, we’ll do what we want’ and they do, but some fans feel unrepresented. There is no award ceremony for music, including the Grammys, that encompasses every genre, even if they claim to. So the universal acceptance is elusive and the ‘M’ awards serve a certain type of diversity.
Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
Alt-J have exploded onto the music scene with their impressive debut An Awesome Wave. Hailing from Cambridge, forming at Leeds University, the four piece have gone from strength to strength since late 2011. It is a 42 minute intimate experience that incorporates Joe Newman’s love for films, ‘Mathilda’, and, with all but the keyboardist holding Fine Art degrees, their fondness for art, ‘Taro’. This band is destined for the big stage with hard hitters like ‘Breezeblocks’ and ‘Fitzpleasure’ to attract the indifferent collective. A blend of enchanting vocals and innovative song structure sends a message that this band isn’t here to make a splash but a tidal wave. Being favourites by the bookmakers and I, these guys are my pick for the award
The Maccabees – Given to the Wild
The Maccabees release their third album in five years,Given to the Wild, to a generally favourable reception. A mature step away from the previous two albums, GTTW experiments with slight shoe gazing elements that take some time to get used to. Their energetic guitars riffs have been swapped for a more pensive approach. It wouldn’t feature on my active playlist, but in a room, this album would serve as an meditative background alternative to its predecessor.
Plan B – Ill Manors
Plan B, or Ben Drew to his mother, has taken a bold move releasing Ill Manors, in tandem with his film of the same nature, during the midst of the Olympics. It is a partial critique of the socio economic conditions undergone by Londoners in the Olympic radius. Holding no punches, there are topics of sex trafficked teens, dealers and general bleak depravity. His bread and butter it seems is his execution, although a bit overbearing at times, but his concerns do appear genuine. No one else on the shortlist is taking this direct an approach and that could see Ill Manors scoop the award.
Richard Hawley –Truelove’s gutter
At 45, here is a man that has, after ten years of solo work, finally achieved widespread recognition with ‘Standing at the Sky’s Edge’ reaching #3 in the UK chart. Critics have placed him as one of the front runners for the award. Age notwithstanding Hawley can take solace in being the oldest artist after PJ Harvey (42) won the previous year.
Django Django –Django Django
A four piece from Edinburgh who claim their name is unrelated to Django Reinhardt but don’t hold that against them. Their self titled debut has been hailed by critics for its original use of African sounds and psychedelic tendencies. Their first single ‘Default’ has featured on various ads but there hasn’t been much media attention regarding this band as of late.
A daughter of a BBC TV journalist, Jessie has sung in collaboration with ‘SBTRKT’ and Clash magazine has described her vocals as ‘the missing link between Adele, SBTRKT and Sade’ which after listening to ‘Running’ is pretty on the money. In terms of the likelihood of a win, she’d be the outside bet, with nothing breaking the genre’s boundaries.
Ben Howard- Every Kingdom
Howard describes his music as melodic folk, and ‘Every Kingdom’ reached gold status after selling over 160,000 records in the UK. In saying this, this album offers no real new dimension to the genre or the competition at hand, with Mumford and Sons out of the equation.
Field Music- Plumb
Hailing from Sunderland, these four lads are the ode to classic pop, taking the odd page from the Beatles and having worked with both Maximo Park and the Futureheads, they have learned their craft almost to perfection. Five albums later, Field Music will put a bright lens on the upcoming winter days, at the cost of tapping your feet.
Lianne La Havas – Is Your Love Big Enough?
Blending soul and folk, Lianne La Havas has appeared onto a jaded music scene with a youthful vibrancy. Relying more on her lilting vocals than guitar/piano La Havas has earned her place on the list as one of two female solo artists. Having been previously nominated for the BBC sound of 2012, the future looks bright for Lianne.
Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again
Winner of the BBC sound of 2012, Michael has produced effulgent affection through a blend of soul and acoustic folk without appearing overzealous. His release ‘Home Again’ could be used in therapy, as it calms the soul. Showing that a guitar and a warm voice is still enough to compete against high end production, Kiwanuka will be movin’ on up.
Roller Trio – Roller Trio
Probably the least known nomination and considered the wild card of the list, Roller Trio are a three piece jazz outfit essentially that include ‘stonking riffs, thrashy noise and electronic soundscapes’ to quote their website. One would think they’d be appealing to quite an older market not even considering the Mercury panel. Layered to the hilt, this onion of an album will keep you staring out your window on the bus all the way to Belfield.
Sam Lee – Ground of its Own
Another outside shout for the award, Lee has created a mixed bag of an album complete with quirky samples and banjo riffs weaved into an impressive arrangement.