It’s that time of year again. The Mercury Prize is fast approaching, and with it comes the hotly-contested shortlist. Due to be announced at 11am tomorrow morning (July 26), the 12 shortlisted records will go head-to-head this September to win the coveted gong, the victor joining the recent likes of Sampha, Skepta and Benjamin Clementine as Mercury winners.
Below, we’ve donned the persona of NME psychic Mystic Mug and rounded up a bunch of the past year’s finest records, to make up our own predictions for who’ll be on the 12-strong Mercury Prize 2018 shortlist.
Arctic Monkeys – ‘Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino’
But of course. A British record that’s grabbed attention like few others could ever dream of, Arctic Monkeys’ languid, semi-conceptual return is a sure bet for Mercury love.
Why it might win: It’s an impressively adventurous turn from a band many snotty snobs had written off as simple purveyors of arena-filling indie.
Why it might not: They are still, admittedly, bloody massive. The Mercury tends to lean away from the behemoths of the industry and shine more light on the newcomers, which might works against the Monkeys here.
Goat Girl – ‘Goat Girl’
The grisly South London newcomers’ self-titled debut is a perfect encapsulation of the weird, wonderful and decidedly ominous side of young life. Like Pixies, Nick Cave and Tom Waits before them, they eloquently capture the dark and dingy.
Why it might win: Goat Girl’s art school schtick is Mercury panel manna. They love the weird and wacky side of music, which these four have in spades.
Why it might not: While their reception has hardly been muted, of all the South London scene bands who’ve broken through in the last year, Goat Girl aren’t the most heralded – that accolade is more likely to go to Shame (below).
Hookworms – ‘Microshift’
Ignore that modest title, Hookworms’ third full length was a seismic shift away from their shoegazing, blown-out post-punk. Clearing away the clouds and harnessing the pop potential at the heart of their rhythmic sound, MJ and co. fused desolate lyrics with danceable backing to dazzling effect.
Why it might win: From the desolation of frontman MJ’s home studio, to the grief and misfortune that followed the band in the months following, ‘Microshift’ is a perfect redemption story. What’s more, it absolutely shreds.
Why it might not: It’s a hotly contested field, and Hookworms’ previous, more moody guise might’ve done them better in the undoubtedly chin-strokey Mercury discussion booth.
Jon Hopkins – ‘Singularity’
A swarming, singular piece of music, inspired by Hopkins’ own out-of-body experiences, ‘Singularity’ is exemplary of how stunning British electronic music can be. The likes of ‘Neon Pattern Drum’ are perfectly primed for the club, but in ‘Emerald Rush’ and ‘Luminous Beings’ he’s also captured the transcendent heart at the core of such compositions.
Why it might win: It’s an engrossing effort from a man who – despite pairing up with Coldplay in the past – remains something of a cult concern.
Why it might not: The Mercury tends to lean more towards traditional, lyrical songwriting than the transcendant electronic soundscapes of Hopkins et al.
Jorja Smith – ‘Lost & Found’
Jorja Smith has been primed for this moment since she first emerged with ‘Blue Lights’ all those years ago. Her debut may have been patchier than that initial swarm of hype might’ve suggested, but her delicate R&B is nevertheless a shoe-in for Mercury grandeur.
Why it might win: She’s been an industry darling for years now – this is the path she’s been on since that very first debut.
Why it might not: In a very hotly contested year, Jorja’s album just doesn’t quite stack up to some of the others in the list, plus she’s already had the full BRITS and BBC Sound Of red carpet treatment.
King Krule – ‘The Ooz’
A gloopy, twisted trek through a mind like no other, King Krule’s return was a space-jazz odyssey that could rival even Turner and co.’s for pure out-there imagination. At once thrashy and thoughtful, it’s an insight into one of young British music’s most idiosyncratic voices.
Why it might win: He’s exactly the kind of left-field, jazz-influenced artist the Mercury loves to give a leg up to – not that he needs it.
Why it might not: He might not turn up. He’s a bit of a ragamuffin.
Nines – ‘Crop Circle’
The latest star of the UK’s blossoming road rap scene, Nines’ latest was something of a sonic reinvention. Nevertheless, it still kept things close to home, the like of ‘Picture In A Frame’ and ‘I See You Shining’ dealing with Nines’ battle for estate supremacy (and love of a spliff, naturally).
Why it might win: The Mercury love to champion the beating heart of new UK music, and there’s little denial that UK rap is at the apex of its ‘moment’.
Why it might not: He’s remained a more underground figure in UK rap than the likes of previous winner Skepta.
Shame – ‘Songs Of Praise’
One of the bookies’ favourites, and it’s not hard to see why. Shame’s incredible debut captured the attentions of everyone in the country on its January release, their acerbic takedowns of young British life delivered with an almighty kick. Don’t let their boyish charms deflect you – ‘Songs Of Praise’ is a real contender.
Why it might win: It was on everyone’s lips at the start of the year. It’s also the perfect cherry on the cake for that ‘South London scene’ you’ve surely heard so much about, which has dominated the musical conversation over the last year and a bit.
Why it might not: It’s really bloody noisy. The Mercury has a certain decorum to uphold, don’tcha know?
Sons Of Kemet – ‘Your Queen Is A Reptile’
The Mercury always keeps one toe in the waters of modern jazz, and Sons Of Kemet’s latest is a cert for qualification. Look past the brilliant title (if you can) and you’ll find a sprawling effort of world-infused jazz odysseys.
Why it might win: The Mercury love a left-field jazz oddyssey.
Why it might not: In a year of big-hitting records from all genres and walks of life, now’s perhaps not the time to prove their niche credentials. The Guardian will report on it anyway, yeah guys?
Wolf Alice – ‘Visions Of A Life’
Having finally broken through from London indie hopefuls to international darlings of the scene, Wolf Alice’s second record deserves a nod to rival debut ‘My Love Is Cool’’s. A more considered, ethereal effort, ‘Visions Of A Life’ has cemented their position as this generation’s most vital guitar band.
Why it might win: They’re the perfect example of a young British band done good – exactly what the Mercury (and British music industry at large) is so keen to celebrate.
Why it might not: Wolf Alice have already had their victory lap – now they’re arena fillers, the Mercury might look to shine a light on the lesser-knowns.
Years & Years – ‘Palo Santo’
Something to brighten the mood. Years & Years’ conceptual second album is as much celebration of frontman Olly Alexander’s queer identity as it is a collection of club-pop bangers. A record which has found the pop three-piece’s voice like never before, it’s one of the best pure pop albums Britain’s produced in some time.
Why it might win: Pop is no longer a dirty word – despite Olly’s undoubtedly dirty subject matter.
Why it might not: Once again, they’re certified megastars these days – the Mercury loves an outsider chance.
Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar
Mercury favourites and one of the country’s most intriguing prospects, Young Fathers’ latest is another essential release from the Edinburgh three-piece. It also houses one of their biggest crossover moments in ‘In My View’.
Why it might win: Young Fathers are the Mercury’s ideal group – intelligent, pop-leaning and political, they’re everything British music is known for, in one forward-thinking package.
Why it might not: They’ve had it before. Don’t be greedy, lads.