The 12 nominees for the 2015 Mercury Music Prize were announced in October, and with just over a week until the award show, we’re picking through the best albums of the year to assess the odds for the outright winner. As always the annual British music prize is shrouded in controversy as fans and industry insiders muse over the bands that have been left out, and the general content of the famous musical award.
Last year’s event featured a surprise winner in Young Fathers, a Scottish hip hop band with Nigerian overtones, who beat dual favourites Kate Tempest and FKA Twigs. It was a similar story in 2013 when James Blake scooped the gong having been classed as a big outsider by the bookies. It’s a tough market to price up, not least because of the ambiguous criteria the judges use to find the winner. One judge summed up what it takes to win last year, by saying:
“The aim of the Mercury prize is to try and highlight albums that might have got slightly overlooked…the winner has to reflect a year in music but also potentially to have created a classic piece of work that can stand the test of time. Craft, skill, context, innovation, individuality, and talent all come into play.”
With that in mind, and in the knowledge that Young Fathers won at +1000 and James Blake won at +3300 it’s worth avoiding the favourite and looking for a bigger price. Let’s look at the 12 albums and artists in order:
The current favourite is Jamie xx, with his debut solo album, In Colour. His self-produced debut features vocal contributions from fellow The xx members, Romy and Oliver, and has been described by the judges as “A joyous trip through clubland past, present and future.”
Wolf Alice are among the strongest opposition, and their debut album, My Love is Cool, was released to critical acclaim in June 2015. It’s a remarkably accomplished album, and the judges have marked it as, “An intoxicatingly ambitious debut”.
Ghostpoet gets in with his third album, Shedding Skin. It’s a much bigger and more produced sound than his early work, and features lyrical contributions from Maximo Park’s Paul Smith, Lucy Rose and Nadine Shah. The judging panel call it, “A brilliant match of voice, word and music.”
Benjamin Clementine – +900 with 888Sport
Former Parisian busker Benjamin Clementine has been nominated for his flawless album, At Least for Now. The pianist combines complex melodies with haunting lyrics, spurring the judging panel to label him, “Dramatic, intimate and pulsatingly original”.
Eska Mtungwazi self-produced her debut album, Eska, which was a long five years in the making. The native Londoner combines soul and folk among a number of other genres, and the judging panel have praised her as, “A bold and versatile writer and performer”.
Bridie Mons-Watson, better known as Soak, is a 19 year-old singer songwriter from Derry. Her debut album, Before We Forget to Dream, is full of melancholy, with the judges calling it, “Wistful, unsettling and mesmerizing”.
With so much emotion entwined in many of the albums, Slaves bring a little bit of light relief to the party with their debut album, Are You Satisfied? Kent-based duo Laurie Vincent and Isaac Holman are reminiscent of a punk-rock era long since past, with the judges summing them up as “An invigorating blast of punk aggression and pop energy.”
Aphex Twin – +1400 with Bet365
Syro is the sixth album that Richard D. James has recorded under the name of Aphex Twin, and it’s an indulgent dip into the past twenty years of electronic dance music. It’s the first album he’s released for 13 years, and shot straight into the UK top ten, proving he retains a large army of fans. The judging panel called it what it is – “A triumphant return for a great pioneer of British electronic music”.
Roisin Murphy – +1600 with Ladbrokes
Another returning artist is Roisin Murphy, formerly of Moloko, who is nominated for her third solo album, Hairless Toys. Released in May 2015, the judging panel have described it as “Artfully elegant…cool, crisp and captivating.”
And yet another name from the past is former Supergrass frontman Gaz Coombes, who is on the list for his second solo album, Matador. The survivor of Brit Pop past has put together an acclaimed piece of work, which the judges call “An album of peerless songwriting – heartfelt and beautifully realized.”
Back to debut albums, and next up is Glaswegian C Duncan with his first offering, Architect. Recorded at his home studio, the album was released on FatCat Records in July 2015. The judges verdict is “The dream pop world of a meticulous sonic craftsman”.
Florence and the Machine – +2200 with Betfair
Nominated for their debut album, Lungs, in 2009, Florence and the Machine are back with their third album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. Released in June 2015 it went to number one in the album charts and is the biggest-selling record of the 12 nominations. The judging panel sum up the album as “Powerful, dramatic and exhilarating”.
Of the 12 nominees it’s difficult to rule anyone out, and the Mercury Music Prize has never been an award to play to convention or popular opinion. Aphex Twin could easily sweep the board after a blistering return to the scene, but melancholic atmospheric artists such as Benjamin Clementine and Soak may also be in with a shout. The one stand out album for us is My Love is Cool by Wolf Alice. It may be a little on the mainstream side for the Mercury judges, but it’s met with huge acclaim for the polished sound and intelligent lyrics. The whole show will be live on BBC Four on Friday night, and you can hear more from each group at the Guardian’s excellent round-up of the artists and tracks.
Wolf Alice to win the Mercury Music Prize
Friday 20th November
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