After narrowing it down from over 290 albums, this year’s Mercury Prize shortlist of 12 albums includes 7 debuts, showcasing some of the best artists from the past 12 months. Despite the fascinating diversity of style and culture on display, the nominee shortlist has thrown up a few surprise omissions, which has divided opinions within the music industry.
Having started in 1992, the award is arguably one of the most prestigious in the UK and Ireland’s music industry. As the Mercury Prize website summarizes, the award was set up to “encourage debate and discussion about music, and to help introduce new albums from a variety of genres to a wider audience”. The statement has come under much scrutiny following this year’s announcement from fans of grime because the grime scene has had a huge revival in the UK this year with the likes of Stormzy, JME and Krept & Konan, all of who were tipped to at least be nominated.
It seems incomprehensible that Blur, Foals, Everything Everything and The Maccabees haven’t received a nomination either, considering all 4 were thought to win the award. Sleaford Mods also seemed like an almost certain nominee with Key Markets, but the panel of judges have thrown a curveball at many peoples expectations making this year one of the most intriguing yet.
Despite the oversights of some of 2015’s best albums, the shortlist is still very strong with nominations for: Aphex Twin, Syro; Benjamin Clementine, At Least For Now; C Duncan, Architect; Eska, Eska; Florence and The Machine, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful; Gaz Coombes, Matador; Ghostpoet, Shedding Skin; Jamie xx, In Colour; Róisín Murphy, Hairless Toys; Slaves, Are You Satisfied?; SOAK, Before We Forgot How To Dream; Wolf Alice, My Love Is Cool. There aren’t any clear frontrunners this year with Jamie xx, Wolf Alice, Slaves and Ghospoet in with a good shot of the award, but considering the shocks that came up on the nomination list, it’s anyone’s to claim.
The popular choice among many appears to be Jamie xx, with his debut solo album In Colour. The multi-instrumental producer took a break from Mercury Prize winning band, The xx, to release one the most highly anticipated albums of the year. He becomes the first person to receive nominations for band and solo work. At only 26 years old, London born Jamie Smith has proven to be one of the most exciting musicians in the UK industry right now and In Colour proved just that. The album is both minimalist and complex at the same time with a euphoric and contemporary sound to it. Best of all, Jamie teamed up with fellow band member from The xx, Romy, for the album’s hit track and arguably one the best songs of the year, ‘Loud Places”.
After having released one the most critically acclaimed albums of 2015, two-piece punk band Slaves will certainly be fancying their chances of taking the gong with their album Are You Satisfied?. After being included on the BBC Sound of 2015 list and been a regular primetime radio feature, their popularity has gone through the roof with people of all ages, from 18-year-old girls to their 50-year-old dad’s. Their music is a flashback to old-school punk driven by a political narrative against ignorance and suburban life. Their disappointment with apathetic Londoners shines through with their songs ‘Do Something’ and ‘Cheer Up London’, which are call to arms for people to get off their arses and diverge from the ever-escalating rat race. The short but sweet tracks full of frustrated energy, thrashing guitar and intense drums make for a masterpiece of an album, one that may revive punk music in the long term.
After being a nominee in 2011, MC and rapper Ghostpoet has returned to the spotlight with Shedding Skin. This, his 3rd album, is more alt-rock than the other 2, with a more conventional guitar based instrumental backing without losing his spoken word style. The mature baritone vocals of Obaro Ejimiwe compliment seamlessly with the atmospheric and gritty sound of this new style, clearly showing his versatility across genres. Whether it will be 2nd time lucky for him isn’t clear but after releasing 3 highly praised albums, all of which are different from the others, it’s about time Ghostpoet received more recognition for his work and a Mercury Prize would be exactly that.
Despite there being 3 very strong frontrunners competing against them, one of the bands of the year Wolf Alice are a strong favourite among many–– including myself. Their debut album My Love is Cool is not only one of the albums of the year, but one of the best of the last decade. The 4-piece alt-rock band from North London have gained a huge fanbase since their first single ‘Fluffy’ was released back in 2013 and have never looked back. After taking the country by storm, from wowing the crowds and critics at Glastonbury to becoming cover stars of some of the biggest music magazines in the country, they have now gone across the pond to perform sell out gigs. The album itself is a display of the musical prowess that has been missing from mainstream alt-rock for way too long. The album out does itself every time you listen to it, from the scorching riffs and exhilarating tempo of ‘You’re a Germ’ and ‘Giant Peach’ to the bleaker and mesmerizing ‘Silk’. The confident diversity of My Love is Cool is refreshing. Wolf Alice don’t stick to the outdated narrative of what a British band should be which is why they are here to stay, and why they are so deserving of a Mercury Prize.
It seems mad to think that Florence and the Machine, SOAK and Benjamin Clementine are not among the favourites after such accomplished albums but that shows the strength of the industry right now. A revival of the UK music scene is on the horizon with a change in the face of music looking to veer away from the generic, airbrushed earthlings that dominate the market now.