The time is upon us once again. The nominated albums for this year’s ‘Mercury Prize Album of the Year in association with BBC Music’ (because brevity is lost on the good people at the British Phonographic Industry) have been released. As usual, you’ve got your indie hipsters, your electro popsters, your old-band-releasing-an-actually-decent-album-for-the-first-time-in-year-ers, and your what-the-hell-is-this experimental album-ers. So what are these albums? Stick with this if you fancy a concise-as-possible guide to the front-runners and dark horses all in contention for this year’s award.
Aphex Twin – Syro
The Irish ‘electronic composer’ returns with his first album since 2001. Syro is your quintessential heavy dance music nomination. The spaced-out rave vibe is genuinely electrifying and like nothing Richard D. James has done before. If we’re awarding the prize based on artists being able to alter and evolve their sound, then this would win hands-down.
Chances: Ladbrokes have it at 12-1, making this a relative outsider. It will probably be ousted by one of the relatively more mainstream nominations.
Chances are, you’ve probably heard this brilliant slice of grungey/poppy/indie rock already. The fact that you can describe this album as all three of the aforementioned genres is testament to the success Wolf Alice have had in creating their very own sound. It stands out as one of the most stunning British debut albums in years. Its originality is everything, and the amazingly multi-layered vocals of lead singer Ellie Rowsell only make this album even better.
Chances: This is where the smart money’s at, and is definitely my tip. Ladbrokes put it as joint second favourite at 5-1.
Hairless Toys is a masterpiece in electro-pop. Just as with Wolf Alice’s My Love is Cool, there are more themes and genres present within this album than you can shake a stick at. Murphy blends her mainstay house music with funk and soul influences to produce an album like nothing you’ve heard before. Think Aretha Franklin on acid.
Chances: Probably not this year. This album may be too obscure for even the Mercury Prize. Ladbrokes sit it 12-1, but its an unlikely contender.
The name of this album pretty much sums up its content. Architect is quite apparently a painstakingly crafted album. Each instrumental and vocal part was layered and pieced together by the Glaswegian Christopher Duncan in his home studio. It calls very much on sounds of subdued folk music, mixed with occasionally dreamy pop overtones. Exactly the kind of thing you’d listen to before bed, basically.
Chances: Rank outsider. Ladbrokes list it at 20-1. The muso judges may be won over by how lovingly and technically crafted it is, though.
Eska – Eska
This is your archetypal ‘what-the-hell-am-I-listening-to?’ album. That is not to even remotely suggest that Eska isn’t worthy of its nomination. The artist Eska was born in Africa but raised in London. Her vocal capabilities are practically unmatched in contemporary music today. The album itself is almost impossible to define. Expect a mix of funky falsettos and heartbreaking soul tunes, all designed to showcase the power and wide-ranging capabilities of the human voice.
Chances: Judges are likely to be impressed by the wide-ranging style Eska delivers. It’s far from a front-runner, but consider this a very capable dark horse. Its odds are at 10-1.
Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
I’d be insulting your intelligence if I introduced Florence as someone you don’t know, especially in light of her recent Glastonbury headline slot. Her vocal ability and range is unparalleled, and as such the songs on How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful are afforded an anthemic and uplifting quality with Flo’s big voice. Couple this with some more delicate moments that we haven’t really seen from Florence before, and you get an extremely impressive album.
Chances: Despite her status, Florence is a relative outsider at 12-1. Don’t write her off yet mind; the judges may yet be won over by that bombastic set of lungs she possesses.
Ghostpoet’s latest album has seen him nominated for his second Mercury Prize, and with good reason; Shedding Skin bridges the gap between rap and poetry. Throughout, lyrics are sharp and biting, and joyful to listen to. Laid over menacing guitar lines, a move away from Ghostpoet’s usual sparse electronica, the album has a distinctly indie feel that sees hip hop done in a way significantly different from the norm.
Chances: Very healthy indeed. Bookmakers have put it at joint second favourite with Wolf Alice’s My Love is Cool. Ghostpoet has a strong chance of taking the award.
There is but one word that typifies Clementine’s debut album: soulful. His broad tenor voice skipping over tender, emotive lyrics, accompanied by often unexpected piano lines, make At Least For Now sparkle brightest in an in-vogue period for modern soul music. One can’t help but be reminded of Nina Simone when listening to Clementine’s dramatic vocals.
Chances: This is a significant outsider at 16-1. Don’t expect this to win, but for it to be nominated in the first place is a big achievement for the debutant Londoner.
The xx man famed for his high-profile remixes returns with his second solo album, In Colour. The album itself is an all-encompassing journey through UK club culture. It is evident that Jamie xx has intricately developed each song on the album to sound both up-to-date with current electronic music and yet still stay connected to its roots in the UK dance scene of the 80’s and 90’s. Expect a trip through techno, house and jungle via garage on the way.
Chances: Very high. This is the bookie’s favourite across the board, and Jamie xx has pedigree with the Mercury Prize after winning it with The xx for their eponymous debut in 2010.
Teenage angst for the modern day. Although in truth it’s unfair to simply lump what is a very, very cultured and observant record with that label. SOAK, AKA Bridie Monds-Watson, is a singer-songwriter from Derry, born in 1997 (and if that doesn’t make you think “what am I doing with my life?”, I don’t know what will). Before We Forgot How To Dream is a charming and heartfelt look at teenage life to a majorly acoustic soundtrack.
Chances: Significant to say the least. The album’s chances are ranked at 8-1, and it could yet make SOAK the youngest ever Mercury Prize winner.
Basic, bare, but brilliant. The two-piece’s official debut is as raw and as energetic as they come, down in no small part to the fact that the band consists of simply guitar, vocals and drums. Their incredibly gritty and breakneck sound is owed to the punk and garage influence that is the lifeblood of Are You Satisfied? Turn it up to eleven.
Chances: Their odds are at 10-1. It is by no means a favourite but certainly a relatively strong contender. The musical minimality may hold this one back, however.
Gaz, formerly the frontman of 90’s Britpop outfit Supergrass, seems to be something of an odd one out in the nominations list; his brand of indie rock has been going since the neolithic age. But here he is in contention for one of the most lauded prizes in music. But in fairness the album is catchy. Expect distorted guitar lines and a distinctly retro feel harking back to some of Supergrass’ finest material.
Chances: Pretty unlikely that this should scoop the gong, with bookies ranking it at 16-1. However the award’s long-standing affinity with indie music may give Matador a fighting chance.