Ladbrokes have started the ball rolling on this year’s Mercury Music Prize nominees: the betting website has released odds on who they expect to take home the gong, with London Grammar currently 16/1 favourites (despite the fact they are not actually eligible). Other acts in their sights include Kate Tempest (5/2), FKA Twigs (4/1) and Jungle (6/1) – you can see the full list of current odds here.
Here at NME, we’re not interested in trying to second-guess what the Mercury bods are going to put on their list. Instead, our writers have made their own picks for what albums they’d like to see make the shortlist – and don’t forget to let us know your own choices below in the comments section, too.
Eagulls – ‘Eagulls’
I want to see this year’s Mercury Prize go to a band who’ve earned it, deserve it and would genuinely benefit from it: a group who could use the kudos to help boost their profile and the cash to have the opportunity to record an even better follow-up. And whether they win or not, Leeds’ Eagulls fit all that criteria: their self-titled debut is still the most fidgety, agitated thing I’ve heard all year, full of itchy riffs and scabrous lyrics; the kind of pissed-off noise which sum up exactly what it feels like to be downtrodden in today’s Britain.
FKA Twigs – ‘LP1’
Currently second favourite to take this year’s prize behind Kate Tempest, FKA Twigs’ straight-up titled debut album, ‘LP1’, is anything but simplistic. The last – and only – album to win that could vaguely be considered R’n’B album was Ms Dynamite’s ‘A Little Deeper’ way back in 2002, but this has got Mercury triumph written all over it. Boundary-pushing, soulful and paying its dues to everyone from Aaliyah to Sade and Beyoncé, ‘LP1’ is a mood-setting stunner of the kind that always seems to get the Mercury judges excited.
Actress – ‘Ghettoville’
‘Ghettoville’ is not a walk in the park. It’s 17-tracks long and the opener, ‘Forgiven’, is a seven-minute funeral march of clanking metal and suffocating seagull squawks. But it’s well worth spending time with. Darren Cunningham deconstructs house, hip-hop, and techno tropes down to their cellular plasma to re-build them into a sprawling Frankenstein’s monster. ‘Ghettoville’ is fuelled by a current of anxiety as robotic beats and knife-sharp sounds rise like neuroses. At one turn you’ll find a whirring, gut-erupting bassline (‘Skyline’) and in another, a jazzy, bright flute (‘Gaze’); a funky click created by marbles bashing together (‘Image’) and a tuned-down spectral R&B sample (‘Rap’). Skeletal sketches jar with flashes of melodic muscle but they are never indulged. This is insectival mechanics with a flicker of soul. The best thing about it? You’ll hear sounds and ideas you could never have imagined.
Joanna Gruesome – ‘Weird Sister’
Although Joanna Gruesome’s debut album came out on the first day of this year’s Mercury eligibility period, I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t listen to it until about four months later, after I saw them put Stephen Malkmus in the shade when they supported him at the Kentish Town Forum in January. (Yes, it was their name, and I’ve sworn never to be such a judgemental butthead again.) I’m now addicted to their intensely powerful sweet/sinister dynamic – like biting into a powdery red apple and chancing upon a razorblade – their politics (they routinely call out the depressingly prevalent sexist culture that still infects independent music) and powerhouse singer Alanna McArdle’s A+ hair-dye game. I think the only way that the Mercury can cling to any trace of relevance in 2014 is to actually make a difference to bands who might never be able to afford to make more albums otherwise, making Joanna Gruesome extremely deserving winners of the £10k prize pot. (Honourable mentions, similar reasons: Ronika’s excellent ‘Selectadisc’, East India Youth’s almighty ‘Total Strife Forever’, Sky Larkin’s ‘Motto’, Wild Beasts’ ‘Present Tense’. Honorable mention, probably doesn’t need the money: La Roux’s ‘Trouble In Paradise’.)
Sign up for the newsletter
Happyness – ‘Weird Little Birthday’
Look, I’m no idiot – I know the chances of this year’s Mercury Prize going to a scraggly trio of South Londoners who sing about sex in public parks and murdering members of Arcade Fire are wafer thin. That doesn’t stop Happyness’ ‘Weird Little Birthday’ being straight up this year’s best British album though. A hilariously wry slacker-rock treatise on Generation Y melancholia, full of near-whispered vocals and jangly guitar hooks cribbed from the likes of Broken Social Scene and Eels, it’d be a worthy winner.
Kate Tempest – ‘Everybody Down’
Let’s hope the fact she’s an early favourite doesn’t affect the machinations of the mysterious Mercury panel, because the debut album by rapper-turned-poet-turned-rapper-again Tempest is one of the freshest-sounding records of the year. You’d expect great lyrics, given her credentials, but it delivers on beats too.
Honeyblood – ‘Honeyblood’
New York producer Peter Katiss (Interpol, The National) doesn’t just invite any new band to come over from Glasgow and stay in his Connecticut pad for a week while putting down their debut record in his own personal studio. Singer/drummer duo Honeyblood, however, luckily caught his ear. Their impressive, quick-fire debut is jammed with pop-punk hooks, spiteful lyrics and acerbic guitar lines and has left both UK and US audiences hungry for more. With Royal Blood emerging this year also, it would seem it only takes two musicians and a penchant for the red stuff to make a hell of a rock’n’roll racket.
Wild Beasts – ‘Present Tense’
The methods of judging that Bombay Bicycle Club have made a better album than Sleaford Mods or whoever else lands on the list seem far too vague to be considered reliable, so I doubt any artist with as consistent form in delivering stunning albums as Wild Beasts will be in with a chance. But their latest ‘Present Tense’, is among their best work and has seen them grow in confidence and stature, making them one of Britain’s best bands. It’s about time they received the plaudits they deserve.