Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Mercury Prize 2012: First Impressions

Well it was about time.

Today in a hotel or a conference centre or some other building in London, the list of nominees for the 2012 Barclaycard Mercury Prize were announced by none other than Lauren Laverne (who's been presenting coverage of the awards ever since someone at the BBC decided Jo Whiley was too old to gush about alternative music like an excited teenager).

Unlike some years where I've been left thinking "who are these people?", this year I actually know and in some cases like most of the artists nominated. So I thought I'd give my two cents on the field of nominees - their chances of winning and (if I've listened to them) whether their music is much cop. Odds to win are in brackets and are as quoted from The Guardian, I've no clue which bookmaker they've come from.

Roller Trio – Roller Trio (10/1): AKA "the token jazz entry" from my understanding. Long shots to say the least.

Field Music – Plumb (10/1): Fourth album by the Sunderland indie group. Ashamed to say I haven't heard it yet despite lots of critical acclaim, though I'm keen to hear it now. I hear they're very likable though. They also did this great remix of Maximo Park's "I Want You To Stay" yonks ago. Good luck to them.

Sam Lee – Ground of its Own (10/1): AKA "the folk entry no-one's heard of". There are a fair few folky/souly/acousticy singer-songwriters nominated this year though, so I'd be interested to hear this to see what makes it stand out.

Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again (8/1): Speaking of acousticy singer-songwriters, here's the BBC Sound of 2012. Love this guy's voice, and the first three tracks on this record ("Tell Me A Tale", "I'm Getting Ready" and "I'll Get Along") are damn near perfect. However I don't think the rest of the album matches the standard that opening trio sets. Don't see this winning but I won't complain if it does.

Lianne Le Havas - Is Your Love Big Enough? (8/1): Chuffed to see this album on the list too. Le Havas' experimentation on tracks like "Forget" and her eye for a cute turn of phrase with on the likes of "Age" and "No Room For Doubt" make her stand out from the acoustic-soul crowd. Again, not a likely winner but an enjoyable listen.

Ben Howard - Every Kingdom (8/1): I was a bit surprised to see this album get nominated. I've never Ben Howard's music but I got the impression that it was a bit Radio 2-ish with it's cushyness, although I'm sure you can accuse a few of the albums on this list of the same. Apparently he likes Bon Iver and John Martyn, so perhaps he's not as bad as I thought.

Jessie Ware - Devotion (7/1): This debut from South London's Ware would be a deserved winner. An eclectic mix of producers and a background that includes collaborating with Jack Penate and SBTRKT has lead to what The Fly called a "forward-thinking mish-mash of soul, pop and R&B". You might have heard her brilliant track "Wildest Moments" accompanying slow-motion images of Andy Murray actually expressing some emotion at the end of Wimbledon.

The Maccabees - Given To The Wild (7/1): Third and most adventurous album yet from London's The Maccabees. Along with nods to the post-punk styling of their early singles on the likes of "Pelican" and the excellent ending crescendo of "Feel To Follow", tracks such as "Child" and "We Grew Up At Midnight" exude a new-found blissfulness and maturity of songwriting (or as some lazy journalist hacks would put it, "they've gone all Coldplay") worthy of their nomination. 

Django Django - Django Django (5/1): These Glaswegian art-rockers make music that's very catchy and inventive, no doubt. But I'm still split on whether I really like them or find them a bit irritating. "Default", for instance, is an ace single with a cracking riff and intro, but something bothers me about the vocals - it's like they're trying to hard to sound like those effortlessly cool Brooklyn based bands. Still, this is the kind of album I can see the Mercury panel going for.

Alt-J - An Awesome Wave (5/1): Incorporating elements of trip-hop, electro and pop, this is a great album from a wonderfully creative band. As a mathematician they've forever won a place in my heart for writing "Tesselate" (mathematical double entendres for the win). Another album I can see the panel falling head over heels for.

Plan B - iLL Manors (4/1): I always find it a little sad that more often than not the only album amongst the nominees representing UK urban music is the most successful album of the genre that year, like how virtually all Dizzee Rascal's albums get nominated just because they couldn't be arsed to look a little harder for a less well-known album. I suppose since the whole Speech Debelle debacle a couple of years back it'll be a while before a true unkown on the UK urban scene gets a nomination. Yes, Plan B is great, but I hope in the near future we see someone like Sway turn up in the nominations.

Richard Hawley - Standing At The Sky's Edge (4/1): Probably my favourite album this year. Former Pulp guitarist Hawley could well have won the Mercury in 2006 with his sublime album "Cole's Corner" had fellow Sheffield-ers Arctic Monkeys not written the album of their generation with "Whatever People Say I Am...". A slight departure from his usual crooning and romanticism (although "Don't Stare At The Sun" and album closer "Before" excel in those areas), "Standing At The Sky's Edge" is much darker in tone and subject matter, with lashings of shoegaze-esque producing and heavy guitars. It's an absolute triumph and has a realistic shot at winning.

Personally, I'm torn between Alt-J and Richard Hawley to win. Plan B has to be considered a strong favourite too, and Jessie Ware could be the dark horse of this list too.

It's a pretty solid, if not very varied, field of nominees and I look forward to the winner being crowned.