The winner of this year’s Mercury Prize for music is announced tomorrow. If you don’t know your Albarns from your Elbows, Myf Warhurst’s cheat notes will come in handy. Steal all her lines; it’s what she’s here for.
Mercury nominee, Kate Tempest. Image Credit: Craig Thomas
To sound like an expert, it’s important to know a few things. Mainly, that there aren’t a lot of really big names this year’s nomination list. In previous years valuable space has been taken up by more established names like Arctic Monkeys and David Bowie. This year’s list is a relatively unknown bunch, and it’s also lacking in the more traditional straight indie guitar groups of yore. It’s a list that wholeheartedly embraces future sounds and speaks volumes about the UK’s current diverse musical landscape. In a word: exciting.
Anna Calvi – One Breath (Domino)
Calvi is a singer-songwriter and a mean guitar player as well, whose second album is brimming with confidence and conveys perfectly her haunting, intense musical style. She stands very much on her own in the current musical environment, and continues to be one of the most beguiling artists around. She’s an outside chance, though.
Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow (Island)
These Crouch End gents are probably the best known of the nominees (other than Albarn), and this, their fourth record, takes them in a new sonic direction, engaging more electronic sounds on what is a pleasing, very cinematic record. Unfortunately, it may not be quite enough to get them to the top spot this time.
Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots (Parlophone)
Blur frontman Albarn has made us wait a long time for his debut solo record. He hinted at it in the early 2000s, but got so busy with other side projects, like Gorillaz, that he could hardly find the time. The wait was worth it, as it’s a lovely exploration into his past and the perils of technology. The last time Albarn was nominated for a Mercury with Gorillaz, he turned it down, saying that getting one would be “like carrying a dead albatross around your neck for eternity”. Fortunately, Albarn seems to have softened his views and is possibly quite chuffed at the acknowledgement of his solo effort. He’s in with a real chance.
East India Youth – Total Strife Forever (Stolen Recordings)
East India Youth is 23-year-old William Doyle who takes his name from the place where this record was written, the East India Docks area of East London. This supremely confident debut album is a collection of songs and instrumentals with a wisdom that belies his 23 years. Critics claim that with this record, Doyle has brought heart to computer music. Not sure if it will win enough hearts to take the prize, however, but he could be this year’s dark horse.
Image Credit: Rebecca Miller
FKA Twigs – LP1 (Young Turks)
26 year old Tahliah Debrett Barnett is going to take over the world with her future R&B. She started her career as a backup dancer for Jesse J, and, being something of a musical bower bird she’s watched and waited for her moment for some time. When she got it, she took everything she’s learnt over the years and melded it together, creating a twisted mix that combines elements of hip hop, ambient and R&B sounds. It’s so fresh it’s occasionally icy. She might actually do this. Place bets.
GoGo Penguin – v2.0 (Gondwana Records)
This is a jazzy trio from Manchester, but there’s not a classic jazz songbook tune in sight. Pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka and drummer Rob Turner’s musical concoctions arise from improvising and experimenting. Probably won’t win, but worth delving into their world nonetheless.
Image Credit: Arlen Connelly
Jungle – Jungle (XL Recordings)
This mysterious duo from London are often cited as a modern soul collective. The sound is very much of the now, melding disco, R&B and groove, but it might be a little too on the smooth side to take them over the line this time. However, if there was a Mercury prize for best video release of the year (who could forget the fabulous rollerskating dancing witness in the clip for The Heat?), Jungle would win.
Kate Tempest – Everybody Down (Big Dada)
Kate is a performance/spoken word poet who won the Ted Hughes poetry award last year. Subsequently, there was huge weight of expectation placed on this record. She delivered. Her compelling stories of disaffected youth are heightened by the musical accompaniment of Dan Carey who’s provided the driving beats and synth heavy sounds. This record plays out like a story, and it feels like the story of London right now. It also feels like a possible winner.
Image Credit: Craig Thomas
Nick Mulvey – First Mind (Fiction Records)
Mulvey’s had a Mercury nomination before, as a member of experimental percussive group Portico Quartet. Since leaving the group in 2011, Mulvey’s discovered he has a glorious voice, and has written some darn fine songs to boot. Might not be quite enough to get him across the line, though.
Polar Bear – In Each And Every One (The Leaf Label)
The fifth album from this experimental jazz group that merges electronic sounds and beats with more traditional jazz experimentations and pulsing wig outs. This is a weirdly wonderful modern jazz record that probably won’t win, but is well worth a listen.
Royal Blood – Royal Blood (Black Mammoth/Warner Bros)
These Brighton rockers fresh out of the packet, having only formed in 2013, aren’t ashamed of a solid riff, making this a classic rock and roll debut. Sounds big and very, very alive, and it will appeal to lovers of all things loud. There’s probably not enough in terms of originality to take the prize, but if you want something in your collection that can be played loud and proud, this is it.
Young Fathers – Dead (Anticon/Big Dada
This Edinburgh trio are an intriguing lot. Alloysious Massaquo was born in Liberia, Kayus Bankole’s folks are from Nigeria and ‘G’ Hastings is an Edinburgh native from the Drylaw estate. Together they’ve made their very own brand of indie hip hop/alt rap that also delves into lo-fi R&B, funk, punk, pop and African sounds. They’re impossible to pin down and the result is quite brilliant. I have my fingers crossed for them.
Myfanwy Warhurst is a broadcaster at Double J radio (ABC Australia), TV presenter, Guardian columnist, music nut and general layabout.