Earlier today (July 26), the nominees for the Mercury Prize 2022 were announced in London, celebrating the successes and diversity of British and Irish music over the past year. Sam Fender, Little Simz, Self Esteem – who all placed highly in NME’s Best Albums of the Year – lead the charge, alongside massive names (Harry Styles) and introducing newcomers to those less familiar (Fergus McCreadie). The winner of the prize will be announced on September 8 at London’s Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith.
Ultimately, however, every record on the shortlist this year has earned its place, and NME’s staffers are here to make the case for each and every album, from the runaway favourites to the rank outsiders.
– Thomas Smith, Commissioning Editor (New Music)
Words: Sam Moore, Hannah Mylrea, Thomas Smith, Kyann Williams, Sophie Williams
Fergus McCreadie – ‘Forest Floor’
Who: Scottish jazz pianist making grand soundscapes with a real emotional core
Why they’re worthy winners: Rooted in Scottish folk tradition, the Jamestown native’s third album thrums with an appreciation for the rich and vast natural landscapes of his country. Performed by McCreadie and his touring bandmates – drummer Stephen Henderson and David Bowden on double bass – the record sought to convey the trio’s respective experiences of growing up in rural Scotland by crystallising their precious memories into delicately crafted songs. By compelling their audience to sit back, wind down and experience the textures of the places that McCredie and co.’s minds fall into when they look back at their past, ‘Forest Floor’ stands as an accomplished jazz album that’s equally rewarding to both newcomers and lifelong fans of the genre. SW
Gwenno – ‘Tresor’
Who: Cardiff-born musician who had a stint in indie-pop group Pipette before going solo in own right. ‘Tresor’, her nominated album, is her third solo record.
Why they’re worthy winners: Although the Mercury Prize represents music from all parts of the UK and Ireland, seldom do any of these acts ever win the top prize: Scotland’s Young Fathers were the last non-English winners in 2014. Gwenno, perhaps more than any nominee, has championed local and overlooked communities via her music. Her last two albums are both Cornish-language in its entirety, but, beyond that, ‘Tresor’ is wonderfully textured and thoughtful, and invites equally Cornish-speakers and those not so well-versed into her world. TS
Harry Styles – ‘Harry’s House’
Who: The people’s prince of pop
Why they’re worthy winners: An effervescent blend of pop, funk, and heavily inspired by city pop, Harry Styles third album has been the year’s biggest record. From bouncy earworm ‘As It Was’, to the bombastic flair of ‘Music for a Sushi Restaurant’ and poignant introspection of the beautiful folk tune ‘Matilda’, the record is a genre-spanning treat that demonstrates the artist’s sound – somehow both innovative and laced in nostalgia – at its best.
What NME said: ‘Harry’s House’ is undoubtedly Styles’ best record yet and presents a musician comfortable and confident in what he wants to create right now. That gives the album a sense of warmth that makes the songs on it feel conversational and close, as if you’re sitting around your own house catching up with the star.” HM
Jessie Buckley & Bernard Butler – ‘For All Our Days That Tear the Heart’
Who: The Oscar-nominated actress and the former Suede guitarist join forces for 12 tracks of spellbinding folk.
Why they’re worthy winners: “More than anything, I wanted it to be joyous – properly joyous – because there is such joy in Jessie, there really is,” Butler said of ‘For All Our Days That Tear The Heart’ upon its release. “In spite of the darkness and the intensity in these songs, I’m just flying when I listen back to them.” And it seems the Mercury Prize judges agree. Buckley and Butler’s joint LP, which emerged from their shared love of and ancestral connection to Ireland, is the product of a match made in folk heaven. Buckley’s vocals soar above Butler’s typically accomplished production, which visits Irish, English, American and Spanish folk traditions over 50 glorious minutes. SM
Joy Crookes – ‘Skin’
Who: Brit-nominated master at making soul-bearing timeless R&B
Why they’re worthy winners: Crookes has become quite the revivalist, creating sonic antiquities that ooze Great Gatsby glitz through her neo-soul sound. There’s a surreal nostalgia within the Londoner’s signature sound, which on her much anticipated debut, Crookes pushed her pen and sound as far as she possibly could, whilst being equally raw and honest with her story. With such transparency, this featureless feat, rightfully, made this year’s shortlist.
What NME said: “‘Skin’ rises from the most intimate pockets of Crookes’s life… she allows herself to revel in her own possibility of healing, singing directly about her past and who she wants to become, letting her formidable voice guide the way.” KW
Kojey Radical – ‘Reason to Smile’
Who: The cocksure lyrical mastermind who makes music for those in need of a confidence boost
Why they’re worthy winners: The East Ender is notorious for delivering music that summon superpowers from every inch of within and the animated frontman has been released from his own mental shackles, blazing through the UK rap scene with his witty and intricate wordplay. He solidifies his importance with this album; the first of many where he can tackle love and relationships with his friends, whilst pushing the boundaries as to what UK hip-hop and rap should sound and look like. ‘Reason To Smile’ breathed hope into UK rap as it proved that it’s not as one-note as many believe.
What NME said: “Kojey Radical sells us the image of refined Renaissance man he has become, rather than merely resting on his potential – it would be easy to do so, as he has bags of the stuff. He has always been a reliable star for those who want high lyrical content, but can also enjoy a banger on a purely surface musical level.” KW
Little Simz – ‘Sometimes I Might be Introvert’
Who: The once criminally slept-on rap star finally gets to smell their roses
Why they’re worthy winners: We all know Little Simz has been the queen of the UK rap scene for the last five years, but there was always an air around her of disrespect for her intricate craft. 2019’s ‘GREY Area’ demolished that notion, and landed a nom at the Mercury Prize in 2020, as well as Best Album in the World at the NME Awards that same year. Her fourth album ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’ offered a mind-blowing, cinematic experience that was impossible to ignore so that, finally, the world can see Simz’ unwavering prowess the Islington rapper has always harnessed.
What NME said: “Little Simz has crafted a near-perfect album that will exist as a marker for future generations to try and attain; it’s not hyperbole to suggest that this canonises her work forever, elating her to be one of the greats.” KW
Nova Twins – ‘Supernova’
Who: Alt-rock duo continue to bring the noise on their dynamic and more experimental second album
Why they’re worthy winners: This is vocalist/guitarist Amy Love and bassist Georgia South’s first Mercury Prize nomination, but you wouldn’t bet against it being their last. Nova Twins’ second LP is a fittingly explosive work, dabbling in elements of electro-punk and alt-pop while ambitiously pushing the limits of their guitar-first sound. Written during the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, ‘Supernova’ also sees Nova Twins speaking out against racial injustice and asserting their power. “This was about celebrating us as Black women and coming back stronger,” Love said. “This is our power and we’re proud of where we’re from. We want other people to feel like that, too.”
What NME said: “Rightly championed as a vital new voice in the world of rock, Nova Twins haven’t let any of that pressure get in the way of creating a flamboyant, fantastic second album that’s as playful as it is powerful.” SM
Sam Fender – ‘Seventeen Going Under’
Who: The Geordie rocker whose sax-soaked rock channels The Boss and made him the man of the moment – 45,000 fans at a recent show in London’s Finsbury Park would agree.
Why they’re worthy winners: Fender hits the sweet spot for so many: he’s approachable enough for the masses, but his work appeals to those on the fringes looking for something genuine and real. ‘Seventeen Going Under’, throughout each and every track, is authentic to the extremes: ruminations on the challenges of growing up outside of the London bubble, standing up to bullies and facing down your inner demons.
What NME said: “Second time around he digs real deep for a wiser, weightier record stuffed with sax-soaked rock epics that touch on life and death, love and heartbreak, rage and regret. Many of you, perhaps, will recognise the flashpoints and relationships he speaks of as your own.” TS
Self Esteem – ‘Prioritise Pleasure’
Who: Sheffield star making thrilling, vital pop music of the now, driven home in a truly loud and proud fashion
Why they’re worthy winners: By allowing herself to feel the full weight of her insecurities, on her second album as Self Esteem, Rebecca Lucy Taylor was able to address them with the courage and conviction she learned from the pop heroes that have preceded her. Each song focused on overcoming aspects of Taylor’s past, from downbeat exes to reckoning with the adversity she faced as the sole female member of her previous indie band, Slow Club. With these memories woven into the grooves of the album, ‘Prioritise Pleasure’ remains a balm for her and anyone who comes to join the party.
What NME said: “Not only does Self Esteem detail the fear, uneasiness and anger of being a woman, but also manages to make us laugh at the sheer absurdity of being forced to navigate a world that has, quite unbelievably, normalised misogyny.” SW
Wet Leg – ‘Wet Leg’
Who: The Isle of Wight indie upstarts deserving of the hype
Why they’re worthy winners: Isle of Wight duo Wet Leg became the buzz band du jour last year with killer debut single ‘Chaise Longue’; but far from one-hit wonders, their first record is a total thrill. A dizzy rush of wry lyrics, killer riffs and intelligently pulled together songs, their self-titled album could be the most enjoyable indie-rock album of the year.
What NME said: “Wet Leg began life while Teasdale and Chambers were riding a Ferris wheel at a festival, where the pair decided to give music another chance; fittingly, their debut album feels like a giddy race around a funfair, those pesky lows batted away with wit and wisecracks like a game of verbal whack-a-mole.” HM
Yard Act – ‘The Overload’
Who: Industrious Leeds four-piece who struck gold on their wry debut album
Why they’re worthy winners: Packed full of spiky riffs, playful wit and minimalist grooves, ‘The Overload’ is quite the statement of intent. Led by charismatic frontman James Smith, whose self-aware monologues about the everyday shiteness of life in Brexit Britain will have you hanging on his every word, Yard Act have utilised the acclaim which deservedly greeted their debut LP in January to establish themselves this year as one of the country’s best new acts. Even Elton John is a massive fan: the music legend will be cheering on Yard Act at the Mercurys after recently collaborating with the band on a new version of their track ‘100% Endurance’.
What NME said: “Yard Act’s journey is a reminder that the most rewarding endeavours – in life or art – sometimes arrive later than you expect or had hoped. Good things may come to those who wait patiently, but for those who put the graft in, like Yard Act, it tastes all the sweeter.” SM