It’s unsurprising that people (read: music journalists on Twitter) get completely hung up on the Hyundai Mercury Prize. Whereas the BRITs are a reflection of what the British public actually listens to and buys – in all its glory and horror – the Mercurys are usually reserved for music nerds who pretend to have listened to all the nominations, then get angry about them anyway.
But no more, perhaps! This year’s nominations might be the most mainstream-heavy list yet, with plenty of albums like Dave, Slowthai, The 1975, Foals and more having a genuine impact outside of the Twitter bubble and impacting the nation’s musical landscape going forward. There are smaller albums in the mix too – The Seed Ensemble and Cate Le Bon both get nods – proof that the awards can cultivate a diverse collection beyond the usual big hitters.
Here, we go into every album that landed a nod this year, how it reflects the British music scene and the chances of it picking up the gong.
Anna Calvi – ‘Hunter’
What is it: Third album from blistering alt-rock cult icon.
Why’s it on the list: She’s a Mercury favourite, having been nominated for her previous two albums, ‘Anna Calvi’ (2011) and ‘One Breath’. On new album ‘Hunter’ she’s on powerful form – this could finally be the won that lands her a gong.
Is it actually any good? We said that it’s “an album of extremes, but they’re all bridged by bold and fluid movements of an artist refusing to be either man, woman or victim.”
Odds according to Paddy Power: 12/1
Black Midi – ‘Schlagenheim’
What is it: Genre-bending racket from hyped London four-piece.
Why’s it on the list: The Mercurys are prone to buying into press fanfare, and gobbled this one up. ‘Schlagenheim’ also sounds like nothing else released this year, so there’s little surprise it got a nod.
Is it actually any good? It’s divisive, that’s for sure. Depending on your willingness to be toyed with subversive math-rock-cum-post-punk, it’ll either be a home run or a swing and a miss.
READ MORE: Black Midi – ‘Schlagenheim’ review
Cate Le Bon – ‘Reward’
What is it: Welsh musician’s soothing fifth studio album.
Why’s it on the list: Expansive and ethereal, Le Bon’s new collection was an exploration into new song structures and genre-palettes. Getting hammered on BBC 6 Music probably helped.
Is it actually any good? Of the list, it’s probably the album that left the smallest cultural footprint, so stands little chance. It’s a consistent and, ahem, rewarding listen for fans of the cult figure, but probably less compelling for newbies.
Dave – ‘Psychodrama’
What is it: Streatham rapper’s thought-provoking debut album.
Why’s it on the list: Probably the most critically-acclaimed British album of the year. It garnered five-stars across the board, including a full-marks review from NME.
Is it actually any good? Political and personal, Dave leaves no subject untouched in this fearless, quasi-concept album that we reckon might be “one of Britain’s best rap albums in decades.”
Foals – ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Pt. 1’
What is it: The first half of the Oxford lads’ apocalypse-themed double-album.
Why’s it on the list: Two of their previous albums garnered a Mercury nod (‘Total Life Forever’ in 2010 and ‘Holy Fire’ in 2013) and they remain one of the few indie bands to be in the Mercury conversation with every release and headline festivals at the same time.
Is it actually any good? In our five-star review, we said that “this era may just prove to be Foals’ making.” Even better, we’re only halfway through!
Fontaines D.C. – ‘Dogrel’
What is it: Irish post-punks’ storming debut album.
Why’s it on the list: As was the case with Shame and Idles, this album has landed them dedicated fans both young and old. The kids are leaping about down the front, and the old at the back buying it from the merch stall – a sustainable combo.
Is it actually any good? It’s a complete riot. In our five-star review, we called said the group came “good on a debut album that offers both a storyteller’s narrative voice and a snarling new vision of youthful disillusionment.”
Idles – ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’
What is it: Bristol punks’ powerful and breakthrough second album.
Why’s it on the list: The IDLES impact has been massive. The growing grassroots community around the band has turned them into a household name. No festival or gig is complete without spotting an IDLES-branded tee or tote these days. How many bands can you say that about?
Is it actually any good? Released in the midst of a national crisis, their Brexit-infused album will live long in the memory. “It’s an instant classic, one that people will turn to in times of need for years to come,” we said in our five-star review.
Little Simz – ‘Grey Area’
What is it: The Croydon MC’s thrilling third album.
Why’s it on the list: A concise and punchy record that moved away from the concept-fuelled mysticism on ‘Stillness In Wonderland’ and let Simz tell her story plainly and frankly.
Is it actually any good? “With punching bass lines and whip-smart melodies, 25-year-old Simbi Ajikawo takes us on a wild ride through her world, laying her vulnerability bare with admirable openness,” we said in our five-star review.
Nao – ‘Saturn’
What is it: British R&B talent’s second record.
Why’s it on the list: Perhaps overshadowed by her excellent vocal features on songs by Disclosure and Mura Masa, the London musician’s second album proved to be the solo album that turned heads when released in October last year.
Is it actually any good? Debut album ‘For All We Know’ was perhaps on the bloated side, but ‘Saturn’ is far more concise and enjoyable, and features her smoothest jam yet in the shape of ‘Love Supreme’.
The Seed Ensemble – ‘Driftglass’
What is it: Mind-melting collection from 10-piece jazz group.
Why’s it on the list: With UK-jazz getting mainstream attention from a young and engaged crowd, The Seed Ensemble’s ability to excel in both sounds familiar and new deserves to be rewarded.
Is it actually any good? Though not the most recognisable name (that might be Ezra Collective or The Comet Is Coming), there’s a wild world to dive into on this free-thinking and expectation-busting record.
Slowthai – ‘Nothing Great About Britain’
What is it: Bruising punk-grime debut from Northampton’s most chaotic son.
Why’s it on the list: While Dave showed a more thoughtful and introverted side of rap lyricism, Slowthai’s confrontational energy makes him the nation’s first punk hero in some time.
Is it actually any good? In our four-star review, we lauded the album’s frankness “in all its garish glory, an indication of the sprawling possible paths for the future”.
The 1975 – ’A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships’
What is it: Britain’s biggest pop band make their state-of-the-internet address.
Why’s it on the list: After second-album ‘I Like It When You Sleep…’ won over the naysayers, follow-up ‘A Brief Enquiry…’ and its genre-hopping styles – squealing indie to soft jazz – appealed to music fans across the spectrum, and remains an intriguing and crucial listen.
Is it actually any good? Er, we said it was this generation’s ‘OK Computer’ and named it Album of The Year in 2018. So yeah, I suppose it’s alright.