Mercury Prize 2014 Showdown
Ever since time began, well since 1992 anyway, the Mercury Prize has become a staple of every music buffs diet, unearthing largely ignored talent and introducing multiple genres to the average fans musical palate. Initially founded as an alternative to the chart and radio play orientated Brit Awards, the panel has prided itself in off the wall and sometime bizarre nominations, from Nu-Folk to Drum and Bass and everything in between TMP can be considered responsible for bringing to public light the talents of Primal Scream, Roni Size, Suede, Badly Drawn Boy, Portishead and Gomez amongst many. And its not just winners like ‘Boy in Da Corner’ Dizzee Rascal who suddenly have the the sales boosting attention of the nations ear goggles, Multiple nominees such as Radiohead (Jt Most Nominations ; never won), Elbow (Won Once), and PJ Harvey (Only artist to win twice) have become ambassadors of british music, and virtually unknown nominated artists such as Massive Attack, Leftfield, Goldfrapp, Turin Brakes and Zero-7 took on new cult status even without winning the prize.
With the 2014 awards on the horizon here’s the lowdown on this year’s 12 nominated Albums and my tip to win. A lot of reviews can be as dramatic as the music these days, so I’ll be keeping it blunt and to the point in my quest to decipher a Mercury Classic from an Album merely worth a punt when it pops up on GooglePlay for £1.99.
Royal blood : Royal Blood
This debut offering from the Sussex two piece with a big sound is sure to elevate them to ‘Muse’ like status within the guitar rock fraternities, sounding in parts like a ‘Jack White’ stand-in, the sound is more operatic than the now mainstream ‘Black Keys’ and their influences seem pretty obvious but the album is solid and enjoyable, expect to see a few of these tracks on the next guitar hero.
You’ll like this if you love : Queens of the Stone Age.
Stand out track : Little Monster
Bombay Bicycle Club : So Long, See You Tomorrow
As a band that have grafted all the way to the top, you couldn’t begrudge or indeed rule out BBC adding the Mercury Prize to their ‘Road to V’ and ‘ Exeter’s Got Talent’ titles. This is their fourth LP and has already seen the Crouch End Indie/Electro act break through that glass ceiling bringing with it their first UK No 1 Album and national fanfare to add to their sterling north London scenester support. Their most cohesive offering to date is littered with some lovely tunes, layered with barely audible lush vocals amongst ‘I Monster’ style electronic arrangements, making for very easy listening without really inspiring.
You’ll like this if you love : Foster The People
Stand out track : Carry Me
Damon Albarn : Everyday Robots
Damon is no stranger to the Mercury awards, twice nominated with blur and then controversially withdrawing Gorillaz after their debut nomination. Obviously already an ikon its hard to listen to this without comparing to his past work. Is it a concept album? theres lots of references to various buttons of a remote control. Its certainly a grower, gorgeous and subtle in parts, songs such as ‘Hostiles’ and ‘Hollow Ponds,’ flashback hybrids nodding to some of his finest moments and then the infuriatingly catchy ‘Mr Tembo’ seems forced and confused, like a cartoon theme-tune Parklife C-side vibe (Ahh I see, a bit like Gorillaz then), with what sounds like a kitten on bongos. Overall Its a strangely positive album from a melancholy stance. Could well be Mr Albarns first winner.
You’ll like this if you love : Damon Albarn
Stand out Track : Mr Tembo
Go Go Penguin : v2.0
Ok so im no Kerouac when it comes to Jazz, in fact like many of you this is my first forage into the Genre and thats exactly why I love the Mercury Prize. Even though its hard to imagine driving along listening to this with the roof down and the radio blaring this young Manchester 3-piece deserve to be lauded. Completely instrumental ‘v2 0’ fuses Classical and Jazz sounds with drum and bass beats, at times painting vivid sweaty pictures of double bass players and GTA car chases as well as evoking poolside sunshine daydreams. Will I ever be a Jazz convert? Beats me, but this is a modern upheaval on traditional Jazz sounds, very listenable and actually pretty damn good.
You’ll like this if you love : Inspector Morse
Stand out Track : Garden Dog Barbecue
Nick Mulvey : First Mind
Its of course a marvellous achievement to be nominated on the back of your debut offering, obviously members of the panel kept an eye on him after he parted ways with 2008 nominees ‘Portico Quartet’ and I bet they are glad they did. Have you ever imagined what a ‘Jose Gonzales’ ‘Ian Brown’ duo would sound like? Or had I. Luckily we now have no need to draw upon such fiscal comparisons. There are many great folky that influences sway through your consciousness throughout this album, although nothing so definitive as to take anything away from Mulvey himself so I wont bother. Maybe a bit ‘inside the box’ to go the whole hog and win, but rest assured he will be one of the big achievers as far as mainstream repercussions go, also its worth listening out for his acoustic reboot of ‘Olive’ 90s classic ‘you’re not alone’.
You’ll Like this if you love : Nick Drake
Stand out track : April
Young Fathers : Dead
This Edinburgh Alternative Hip-hop 3-piece have been plodding along ever since bursting onto the festival scene in 2008. Though with the release of their first studio album they seem to be making a real breakthrough. Its at times a straight up aggressive and in your face grime album, with a tribal backdrop. Seemingly polarised between ‘Massive Attack,’ and the epic Bristol based hip-hop movement of the 90s and the hugely influential US Hip-Hop Artists of the same era.
You’ll like this if you love : Faithless
Stand out song : Get up
Polar bear : In Each And Every One
Nine years after their first Mercury Prize nomination London based Polar Bear are the daddy’s of cross over experimental Jazz and the more quintessential act of the two nominees from that genre. Its all about the horns, again with a trip hop feel at times ; this is the stuff Louie Balfour could really get his head into, in a Bar, smoky and secluded, tucked away at the back of Soho. Definitely for the enthusiasts among you, but probably not gonna float your boat unless your in the middle of a thesis on Allen Ginsberg and want some background inspiration.
You’ll Like this if you love : Jazz
Stand out Track : Be Free
East India Youth : Total Strife Forever
Dorset Electro knob fiddler William Doyle AKA East India Youth is another debutant showcasing his first studio album, its a slow starter only by track 3 does it start to introduce a few extra instruments and vocals, and after my first listen I cant help feeling this is the work of someone locked in a room with a Roland keyboard, the only LP to hand is ‘Bright Eyes : Digital Ash In A Digital Urn’ and extra curricular activities include watching VHS copies of ‘Space Odyssey’ and ‘Its all gone Pete Tong.’ This is harsh, maybe I’ve been subjected to too many types of Jazz, I’m not doing this article to pick apart these albums and tell people what to buy or what not to listen to, like some righteous NME scene stalking snake so I listen again, and again and Eureka! No question, there’s plenty of void and dark space matter that comes with the territory but theres some lovely moments on this album once you give in to it. The vocals almost Marc Almondesque during the slow burning anthem ‘Dripping Down’ and come down ballad ‘heaven, how long.’ while Touches of Sgt Pepper adorn ‘Song For A Granular piano.’ Sneaky feeling this could win it. I for one will look forward to another album of EIY knob fiddling.
You’ll like this if you love : Hot Chip
Standout Track : Dripping down
Jungle : Jungle
Electro/Funk/Soul Londoners ‘Jungle’ have barely been formed and I think they could well have a shiny new prize for the shelf in the spare loo after listening to their debut offering. Impeccably produced, with effortlessly twisting vocals, and a great tempo from start to finish. As clinical as it is clever, theres a Disco on the Soul Train and everyone’s invited.
You’ll Like this if you love : Outkast
Stand out track : Time
FKA Twigs : LP1
Yet another cracking debut, this time its London based Tahliah Barnett or ‘FKA Twigs’. LP1 is a slow winding trip hop showcase for her wide range of vocal talents, plugging in the ‘Kate Bush’ shaped gap in the market since an exhausted Florence moved off the radar (stopped releasing a new song every 2 months). Enjoyable through out, though it seems at times a bit experimental and clunky with some strange production extra’s (Think ‘Artful Dodger‘) But theres some quality songwriting going on and she’s a very sensual lady by all accounts, ok well by my account.
You’ll like this if you love : Florence and the Machine
Stand out Track : Lights on
Anna Calvi : One Breath
This Twickenham lass is pretender to ‘PJ Harveys’ mercury throne, now 34 Anna’s breakthrough didn’t come until quite recently (2011) and it shows. Her second LP One Breath is timeless, every song has something to say, through a voice that carries the confidence of an artist that has had time to grow and develop away from the public eye. Reminiscent of ‘Jeff Buckley’ in a certain atmospheric style, with dark mystical overtones and chopped off arrangements that you would normally hear listening to something by ‘Tom Waits.’ This could well be a soundtrack to a thousand lives. ‘Nick Cave’ in lipstick.
You’ll like this if you love : PJ Harvey
Stand out Track : Carry Me Over
Kate Tempest : Everybody Down
Tempest is a South-London play-write and poet as well as Hip-hop artist, The ambitious story telling that flows fantastically through ‘Everybody Down’ is intricate, cheeky, cleverly constructed and as refreshing as when the ‘Mercury Prize Panels’ last bedroom poet Mike Skinner stepped up and into the public gaze. Its unfair to compare Kate to a bedroom poet as she already has a ‘Ted Hughes’ (Award for poetry) as well as several publications to her name, but in all honesty this is much broader in its horizons then any of ‘the streets’ records, although it beggars belief she hasn’t taken serious inspiration from the Birmingham visionaries. This is a record full of life, lessons and hope,.oh and bangin tunes.
You’ll like this if you love : The Streets
Stand out Track : The Heist
So thats that then, an easy decision, (Ha) theres no doubt in my mind, (double ha). I do feel strangely privileged to have had all this time with these records, so lovingly crafted, potential classics, and most of them will be going into my collection. Sure, theres plenty of music fans out there amongst you who will pick up one or two of these records at some point, your heads turning to appreciate different genres, and thats really the point of the Mercury Prize, in my eyes, to introduce music to the people, at a time when every music institution we were brought up to believe in has sold us out, imagine picking 12 albums from last years brits, a bucket of SYCO pantomine fodder! Or try listening to radio 1 for 15 minutes without feeling like your being taken for a fool. We are force-fed money making music formula’s through every outlet available, so TMP is to be commended for making it all about the music. For the record (Pun intended), I think the winner will be ‘Anna Calvi : One Breath’….. Or maybe ‘Jungle’,. actually ‘Kate Tempest’ will win. Ahhh. Lets just say the decisions safe in the panels hands. Enjoy the music.
To Find out who wins tune into the awards show on Wednesday 29th October