The Mercury Prize has been met with a few sighs and eye rolls this year so here is a walkthrough of this year’s shortlist with help from some friends. You can defend, swap or attack any album on the list. This is the result.
Nadine Shah Holiday Destination
Defense: Holiday Destination isn’t easy listening but nor is it uncomfortable. Shah is smart enough to apply nuance along with light and shade. This doesn’t feel like a jab to the chest or an empty slogan barked from a megaphone, but the start of an ongoing and developing dialogue. Consequently, the album’s joys and rewards open slowly and incrementally, and with each repeated visit come new rewards. While it may not offer any concrete answers, Holiday Destination makes bold steps towards exploration, examination and understanding. And right now, those are precisely the moves that we need to be making.
-Taken from The Quietus’s review of Holiday Destination
Noel Gallagher Who Built the Moon?
Defense: Noel Gallagher’s third solo release, Who Built the Moon?, came in November 2017. The album received a mixed reception, probably due to it being Noel’s furthest departure from Oasis.
The album brought with it several cracking songs, including opener ‘Fort Knox’ and ‘It’s a Beautiful World’. It also contains what is one of the best songs Noel’s ever written: ‘Dead in the Water’.
I think it deserves to be on the list because it is sonically a huge departure from Noel’s Oasis days and is the most unique of his solo efforts. And of course, it did bring the talents of scissors woman to light.
-Chris Anderson, The Anfield Talk
Swap: Second albums are supposed to be tricky. They are not supposed to be a bold, genre-blurring reimagining of a band’s sound. Yet with I’m All Ears, that is exactly what Let’s Eat Grandma have delivered. It’s an album that ticks more of Mercury’s boxes than they have boxes. Vibrant, neon pop blends with the experimental and avant-garde that Let’s Eat Grandma do so well.
It is instantly accessible and mainstream yet deliciously leftfield and unpredictable. Listening is like taking an adrenaline shot to the heart before trying to complete the labyrinth. It’s exciting and energetic, maddening and invigorating. If Mercury was still about showcasing the dazzling, the new and the truly magnificent, then I’m All Ears would be a certain winner
-Adam H. Alphabet Bands
Lily Allen No Shame
Defense: No Shame is a slightly odd album, where the horror of divorce is laid bare next to cheery pledges of everlasting love, where stuff wrapped in cliche coexists with songs that are painfully honest and revealing. Still, as Allen would doubtless point out, she never claimed to be perfect. What she is, No Shame strongly suggests, is ready and able to tough it out.
-Taken from The Guardian’s review of No Shame
Arctic Monkeys Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino
Defense: Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino is the latest Arctic Monkeys album, and it trades the stylish, slicked back hair, teddy boy look of its Indie-Rock predecessor AM, and replaced it with a Kubrick-esque Space-Pop album that largely consists of Alex Turner losing his train of thought. (which thankfully happens to be a good thing).
The heavy guitar riffs and drum solos have been replaced by gentle piano that carries every song while Turner croons and falls into falsettos about social media, isolation and putting Mexican restaurants on the moon.
With all the David Bowie-isms in tow with this album, it also seems to be like Arctic Monkeys’ Pet Sounds album, with Turner essentially crafting this album all by himself, and boldly taking the music into a drastically different direction, that wasn’t expected by many of their sizable fanbase.
Though critical reception has been mixed, I believe this album expertly incorporates jazz with a space-station backdrop, and at the very least, will pave the way for more astounding Arctic Monkeys records, and it could very well receive the acclaim it deserves if it wins the Mercury Prize this year.
Attack and Swap: May saw the release of Arctic Monkey’s sixth studio album Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino. The album received mixed reviews and was a far departure from their previous work. Whilst providing plenty of memeable lyrics, including Alex Turner’s desires to be one of The Strokes, I can’t say I was a fan of the album. For that reason, I am binning Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino. I’d replace it with Blossoms’ second studio album Cool Like You.
The chief reason for this is that Blossoms’ album is quite simply a better album, but another is that they’re more deserving of the cash prize. Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino was Arctic Monkeys’ sixth number one album, it’s not like they need the extra exposure or the album sales.
So, what do you mean you’ve never seen Blade Runner?
-Chris Anderson, The Anfield Talk
Everything is Recorded, Everything is Recorded
Defense: The full length debut of Everything is Recorded, XL Recordings paterfamilias Richard Russell’s solo production endeavor, is a master class in collaboration. From his familiar place in the background away from the spotlight, Russell brings out the best in a wide range of young XL affiliates, from Sampha to Ibeyi to London rapper Giggs.
The album progresses like a utopian dream, with electronic sounds blending with vintage samples and diverse voices to create a project that is incredibly cohesive and self-aware. It’s an album that feels simultaneously perfectly representative of our society today, while also being instantly timeless and transcendent. Ultimately though, Russell’s Everything is Recorded as a thesis on the power of collaboration and the power of art is truly necessary in our time, and makes for an utterly stunning listen.
-Charley James, @chrlyjms
Wolf Alice Visions of a Life
Defense: No album on this list is as dark, as creative, as pushy, as aggressive, and as diverse as Wolf Alice’s second creation. In my humble opinion, this album contains 3 tracks that are better than any off the other nominated albums, and contains zero filler tracks – it’s quality throughout.
No other album on this list can paint such a vivid, raw, emotional portrayal of a human soul being torn in many which-ways. Or be able to reach you as emotionally as this grungy, angry, yet beautiful body of work.
Attack: Whilst Wolf Alice are an exciting band and there is no doubt that Visions of a Life will stand out as a cornerstone of this year in British music, my worry is that they are becoming the new Mercury Prize darlings as bands like Radiohead reach the end of their careers.
There’s no swap here because Visions of a Life deserves to be there, it’s a genuine high quality, complex piece of work, it would just be a shame to see them pigeon holed as a artsy band by the Mercury Prize, there’s more to them than this but they have the potential to either let critical success form their next body of work.
-Dale Glenister, Peanut Mixtape
Florence and the Machine High As Hope
Defense: High As Hope is the definitive Florence and the Machine, gone is the young woman who sang ‘Raise it Up’ and here is the powerful goddess, flawed but beautiful, in her full glory. The album is raw, and it’s more honest than I can imagine it’s comfortable to be to millions of people around the world yet Florence Welsh does it. It’s a story of redemption, of being strong enough in your own eyes and most importantly it’s not sad.
This album is fucking triumphant, it runs through every emotion. The bombast of Hunger to the cinematic cool of Big God and back to the yearning for home of South London Forever. High As Hope is undoubtedly a masterpiece that deserves a prize.
-Jade Atkinson, @thisisforlis
Swap: Recently it seems award shows are met with criticism, and suggestions of a disconnect between these companies and the general public are made by most. The shortlist for this year’s Mercury Prize is no exception, as one could argue that a couple “safe options” have been chosen, possibly on name value alone. Personally, one person I feel should have been included is Tom Misch, as his album, Geography, is dead good.
Since 2014, Tom has been steadily honing his craft with a sound that stands out from the crowd. His blend of Jazz, RnB and Pop comes together with music filled with grooves, rhythms and melodies that have really helped him create his own platform that few can replicate. Geography is a glorious result of that, as it takes you on a journey through time and space while exploring through skies, rivers and even black and white films to really drive home how timeless his music is. It comes with a fair share of hits (‘South of the River’, ‘Lost In Paris’), smooth jams (‘Movie’, ‘Isn’t She Lovely’) and some anthemic expressions of love (‘Cos I Love You’), and leaves you wondering why you’ve never heard of Tom Misch before. It certainly makes an impact, and one that I feel should be celebrated with a Mercury Prize.
While it’s cool to see the likes of Wolf Alice and King Krule get a mention, the Mercury Prize should focus primarily on up and coming artists or artists who reinvented themselves (Arctic Monkeys), and I feel Tom Misch could have replaced Noel Gallagher and even Florence on this shortlist. Honestly? You can’t ignore that ‘Disco Yes’ is an absolute banger.
-Adam Reeve, Sounds Good
Novelist Novelist Guy
Defense: Despite being on the verge on something big since 2015 when he was predicted to be one of the mainstream come ups from grime, Novelist never really showed an interest in the attention, choosing to craft his debut album Novelist Guy with as much time as he could get. It shows that he’s taken his time to get exactly what he wants in the album. Novelist Guy is clever, it open and accessible without losing a scrap of integrity.
Lines like “Until I get answers I’m gonna be on the roadside screaming Stop Killing The Mandem” and “I’m a black boy from London so I only know black boy business” demonstrate a resounding sadness and anger. The album is a picture of urban life, and life when the odds are stacked against you. It’s raw, it’s frank and it’s deserving of attention from the Mercury Prize.
-Dale Glenister, Peanut Mixtape
King Krule The Ooz
Defense: The Ooz is not always a fun listen, both because of Marshall’s effectiveness in communicating his pain and his tendency to avoid editing as much as he probably should. Even with three or four excess tracks, the album is still an essential listen; disorienting but never dull, heartsick but never maudlin, the rambling melancholy of The Ooz seems destined to soundtrack thousands of lonesome nights and send its listeners on journeys through its nocturnal half-dream without the need to leave the comfort of their headphones.
Whether they’ll find solace along the way is beside the point; Marshall’s music offers no easy answers, and the man himself never seems to find exactly what he’s looking for. Along the way, though, he leaves a trail of brilliance in his wake. Plenty of transcendent albums were born of dissatisfaction, but rarely has that frustration sounded so appealing.
-Taken from Consequences of Sound’s review of The Ooz
Attack: GroundCulture are a Newcastle based band that, within the last year, have recieved copious amounts of praise from not only Kerrang!, but BBC Radio One host Dan P. Carter, gaining plenty of traction. The likes of King Krule, while are interesting, do nothing new in terms of their respective genre whereas both this band and genre will be snubbed time and time again.
Their debut has allowed them opportunities to play at some great festivals as well as supporting 30 Seconds To Mars at This Is Tomorrow fest. Currently they are gearing up to head out on the road with Crossfaith for the UK leg of their tour. It seems a shame that harcore music has always gone missed by the Mercury Prize when it has always been a prominent part of the UK music scene and is always innovating, as GroundCulture prove.
-Jacob Mallon, JUNO.
Jorja Smith Lost and Found
Defense: As easy as it may be to question the validity of Jorja Smith’s ‘mainstream adjacent’ status (she got her big break working with Drake after all), Lost & Found as a whole seems to slot into the typical criteria of the Mercury Prize almost perfectly – accessible and easy enough to make that definitive crossover with little fuss, but also divorced from more ‘standard’ R&B in its reliance on smoky, jazz-inspired atmosphere to appeal to older, more traditionalist tastes. It’s one of the most obvious nominees (especially in hindsight), but in a way, that’s sort of what makes it a worthy one.
-Luke Nuttall, The Soundboard.
Everything Everything A Fever Dream
Defense: After their previous album Get To Heaven was disgracefully left off the 2015 longlist, I was absolutely thrilled to see Everything Everything’s politically-wired LP A Fever Dream on this year’s shortlist.
Arguably their most cohesive work to date, the band takes inspiration from the year’s political events to explore themes of Brexit (‘A Fever Dream’, ‘Run The Numbers’), the murder of MP Jo Cox (‘Ivory Tower’) and Donald Trump (‘Big Game’) set alongside their sometimes unorthodox instrumentals and delicious vocals from frontman Jon Higgs.
With four albums under their belt, the band are slowly getting the recognition they deserve for their astonishing social commentary within tracks, and A Fever Dream is as good as it gets.
Attack and Swap: Everything Everything are critic’s darlings and artsy award’s wet dream. Arthouse music always has been critically favourable and makes them naturally more inclined to be nominated for no reason other than their genre. Of course in this case, A Fever Dream is a perfectly good body of music, but it’s not accessible.
Perhaps it’s inaccessibility is part of the critical charm the whole ‘it’s not that you don’t like it, you just don’t understand it’ line. You can practically already picture the tweets if they win. One half will elated at what an ‘outsider’ choice it was while the other complain that they don’t know what Higgs is saying through his falsetto voice. Some would argue A Fever Dream doesn’t need to be accessible because it’s not a commercial award, but inaccessibility doesn’t make this album high art, it just alienates the commercial audience.
A better choice perhaps is Enter Shikari’s The Spark. The band have always been innovators of alternative rock from their beginning. The band have been snubbed for all five of their albums despite critically successful their whole career. Much like Everything Everything, Enter Shikari were inspired by the global political situation when creating The Spark. The album takes on less of their old post-hardcore influences to focus on experimental rock with real drum and bass themes throughout. This band and this album deserve some recognition.
-Dale Glenister, Peanut Mixtape
Sons of Kemet, Your Queen is a Reptile
Defense: This tension creates a wonderful jazz record. Rich in sudden changes in tone, wild crescendoing climaxes of simultaneous percussion and reeds bring both a sense of urgency and danger. This is jazz in the truest sense: the players have their riffs, but are testing each other. Codas materialize, drift off almost imperceptibly and reappear; Hutching is constantly restless, whirling between the wombling tubas and doubletime percussion to sow genuine storytelling into each track.
The richness of the source material and the deftness of interplay of each member of the band ensures that Your Queen is a Reptile leaves you with a sense of having been a part of something truly special. Predictions aren’t our thing, but Sons of Kemet, and indeed Hutchings, are names that should endure, and are truly worthy of the label’s storied history.
-Taken from Line of Best Fit’s review of Your Queen is a Reptile