Mercury Music Prize Day: the one day of the year that your ultra-optimistic mate rushes out to get £20 on the jazz one “because monster odds” and everyone else states with no little authority that surely Radiohead have got to win it this year. Here’s the twelve shortlisted records, who’s your money on?
Matching untouchable confidence with honest humility, this chart-topping debut has Mercury winner written all over it. Early bets will be hedged here.
We said: “Stormzy, a prolific tweeter, has built a reputation as something of a comedian and concludes one lush track with a self-effacing skit on which easy-listening radio host Jenny Francis drawls: “That was Stormzy with the smoochy ‘Velvet’.” This is followed by the marching, uncompromising grime of ‘Mr Skeng’, one of the most confrontational tracks on ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’, underlining the fact that the rapper does what he wants, in his own way. Amen to that.”
Early odds: 3/1
Kate Tempest – ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’
No potential nominee has as much political relevance as ‘Let Them Eat Chaos’. Tempest’s concept album tells the story of strangers meeting in the middle of an apocalypse.
We said: “Tempest’s long-form rap poem in seven parts, released as both her second album and book of verse, concerned seven damaged, shut-away neighbours in a London street forced to interact by a great storm that drives them from their flats. It cut straight to the malignant cancer at the heart of modern urban life; the selfish isolation and alienation that drives us apart and distracts us all from the calamitous fate of humanity. ‘I’m pleading with my loved ones to wake up and love more,’ Tempest rapped; we woke up and loved her more.”
Early odds: 6/1
One newcomer worthy of a Mercury nod is Stratford prodigy J Hus. His debut fashions chart-ready gems from the 21-year-old’s signature, chameleon-like vocal.
We said: “If any single artist embodies the boundary-trouncing cross-pollination that’s making hip-hop so exciting right now, it’s 20-year-old London rapper J Hus. He’s a total vocal chameleon, capable of convincingly switching flows – switching nationality, even – depending on what the track requires. A single verse can find J scrolling through the louche grind of Jamaican dancehall, the autotuned bounce of Ghanian hiplife, the aggy energy of London grime and the zoned-out drawl of Atlanta rap. It’s a dizzying, dazzling trick.”
Early odds: 9/1
Winners with 2009’s self-titled debut, the gloomy trio’s third album matches the intimate magic of their first work with Jamie xx’s heroics in the electronic world.
We said: “‘I See You’ is not simply an album, but a moment of realisation. The moment where The xx stop glancing shyly at their reflection and confront themselves in the mirror. What they discover is infectious.”
Early odds: 7/1
Very few family portraits come as richly-detailed as ‘Yesterday’s Gone’. Poetry, spoken word and cutting hip-hop verses all share the same space.
We said: “British hip-hop has often been dismissed as lacking the bite, punch and sheer skills of its American counterpart, but 22-year-old Ben Coyle-Larner has stacks of talent, some seriously good tunes and some highly decent connections – he’s already supported everyone from MF Doom and Nas to Kate Tempest and Joey Badass… British hip-hop finally got serious – and Loyle Carner is leading the charge.”
Early odds: 10/1
Glass Animals – ‘How to be a Human Being’
The Oxford four-piece’s wild second LP tells the story of 11 different characters, all with their own unique story.
We said: “Following up the hushed, humid rainforest vibes of their debut ‘Zaba’, the Oxford indie quartet pulled out all the stops to create this album about the characters they’d met on the road, shedding none of their eye for detail. Opener ‘Life Itself’ was their first out-and-out banger, but the big tunes continued to come. ‘Season 2 Episode 3’, about a sofa-bound slacker, nodded to videogame sound effects; ‘Mama’s Gun’ brought mind-numbed, murderous intent out with a Carpenters sample; ‘Pork Soda’, perhaps the best of the lot, gave us the line “Pineapples are in my head / Got nobody ‘cos I’m braindead”. Inspired.”
Early odds: 12/1
Shunning the norm of releasing 20-plus track epics, these former Mercury winners keep it short and sweet on a weird, twisted third LP.
We said: “By the time you get to the cinematic, religion-nodding album closer ‘Pleader’, you’ve had the pleasure – if an often uneasy one – of listening to a tight 40 minutes of music that builds a very modern wall of sound. Great album, if not entirely relaxing.”
Early odds: 8/1
After years collaborating with the likes of Drake and Kanye West, Sampha’s first solo full-length is well worth the wait. Densely-packed songs are matched with intimate family portraits, like on standout ‘(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano’.
We said: “Is ‘Process’ worth the three-and-a-half-year wait since his last EP? Yes – absolutely. It’s a finely crafted and devastating take on the loss of his mother to cancer, as well as his inner turmoil at how success has dragged him away from his roots. The ‘process’ of the title refers to that of grieving as much as it does making music. Not that there’s much distinction shown in these 10 therapeutic songs about love, remorse and ambition.”
Early odds: 4/1
‘Radio indie’ is still having its day in the sun, so Blossoms and their Grimshaw guitar pop debut is a solid mid-table bet.
We said: “Enter Stockport five-piece Blossoms – this year’s biggest guitar-pop shooting stars, named after a pub and looking like snake-hipped garage rockers from the wrong side of Scarysex Central – occasionally sounding like Ellie Goulding. They’re cunningly making a stealth assault on chart territory but ultimately, Blossoms leap from their chart-bound Trojan horse as modernist rock heroes.”
Early odds: 16/1
Dinosaur – ‘Together, As One’
The token ‘jazz one’, Dinosaur are an experimental jazz quartet ‘supergroup’ based around award-winning young trumpeter Laura Jurd.
We say: “Dinosaur’s debut album throws electronica, Celtic folk, world music influences and several kitchen sinks into a neo-fusion concoction that’s been described as ‘punk rock by jazz standards’ by an unusually excitable Radio 3.”
Early odds: 22/1
Yes, the record containing ‘Galway Girl’ is amongst the twelve greatest and most groundbreaking musical achievements of the past year, apparently. You can tell Marcus Mumford’s on the panel this year…
We said: “his latest album is as likeable as he seems in interviews: assured but unassuming and sometimes hard to fathom. There’s probably a mathematical formula to Ed Sheeran’s success, but he’s the only one who can crunch the numbers.”
Early odds: 14/1
The Big Moon – ‘Love In The 4th Dimension’
Rank outsiders, but easily the best guitar record on the list, the London retro swoon rockers get a well-deserved nod for their melody-drenched debut.
We said: “If you didn’t already believe in these four ladies as the next great British band, you’d have a hard time denying them now. The Big Moon are shining stronger and brighter than ever. Don’t expect their light to dim even the tiniest bit any time soon.”
Early odds: 28/1