Mercury Prize 2013

Flicking through the acts who make up the Mercury Prize shortlist is always a frustrating experience. The absence of personal favourites aside, it’s easy to note the lack of diversity (50% white guitar acts? No metal or urban music? Only three female acts?) but equally troubling is the lack of leftfield choices.

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Ranging in age from 18 (Jake Bugg) to 66 (David Bowie) this year’s acts are united by their proximity to the mainstream and the fact that the vast majority are from London and its surrounding area. Whether the Mercury nominations can really claim to represent “British” music when just two acts (Arctic Monkeys and Jake Bugg) hail from north of Birmingham, Villagers are the sole Northern Irish contender and nothing from Scotland (Chvrches? Frightened Rabbit?!) even makes the list, is certainly up for debate. Even the highly acclaimed (and self-released) return of much-loved shoe-gazers My Bloody Valentine after 22 years didn’t merit an inclusion, with MBV frontman Kevin Shields lambasting the Mercury judges for “effectively banning independent music”. From the more experimental fringes it would have been nice to see some recognition for Gold Panda or Zomby.

Nonetheless here at qmunicate we’ve ploughed ahead and produced our definitive, irreverent guide to this year’s nominees.

Arctic Monkeys – AM

First up is everyone’s favourite Sheffield tykes, who’ve recently released their fifth album in just seven years. Nowadays they’ve swapped scrappy indie-punk for classic rock swagger, and trackie bottoms for skinny jeans and leather jackets but fortunately frontman Alex Turner remains one of the most talented young songwriters in the business. AM would be a worthy winner but it seems unlikely the Mercury judges will reward the quartet again so soon after they picked up the award in 2006.

James Blake – Overgrown

Three years ago James Blake made minimal, spacious soundscapes built on cerebral rumbling bass and sang ‘Limit to Your Love’. Overgrown is the same dinner party music couched in pseudo-intellectual waffle but now with added Brian Eno. It didn’t win the award for him last time. It’s not going to now. If he were a food he’d be lettuce.

David Bowie – The Next Day

Old rock dude packs away his dressing up box for good and releases an album of mid-tempo ballads to universal acclaim from middle music hacks who can’t bear to admit that their teenage icon ain’t like he used to be. It’s better than his last comeback but that still only makes it about the 25th Bowie album ever. Props for trolling the Catholic Church with a stigmata inspired video though.

Jake Bugg – Jake Bugg

The grouchy qmunicate interviewee and Nottingham Dylan-wannabe has sold a shitload of records to the sort of bowlcut sporting fuds who thought Oasis were progressive. He’s got a couple of nice tunes but if this is the most exciting record Britain has to offer then we’re in dire straits.

Disclosure – Settle

In the year in which British inspired dubstep and EDM swept the world, the scene’s finest LP came from two brothers from Surrey. With hits like ‘Latch’ and ‘White Noise’ bringing together up and coming British talent like AlunaGeorge and Sam Smith, Guy and Howard Lawrence nodded to Basement Jaxx and Chicago house, whilst still being undeniably the sound of 2013. Appealing equally to Mixmag, Radio 1 and Match of the Day, they’re qmunicate’s tip to walk away with the prize.

Foals – Holy Fire

Holy Fire is the third album from the Oxford punk-funk quintet led by the hirsute and combustible Yannis Philippakis. Sadly, punchy singles aside, it’s the weakest of their three records. Don’t put it past the Mercury judges to attempt some revisionist history but if you like being sweat on by strangers then their fearsome live show is the place to catch Foals.

Jon Hopkins – Immunity

Certainly the most leftfield on a list dominated by airwave friendly titans, Jon Hopkins is a London based producer and composer, best known for his brilliant Mercury nominated collaboration with King Creosote, Diamond Mine. A crunchy mix of techno and electronica, Immunity builds and unspurls like the soundtrack to a night on the town making it both his most affecting and effective album to date. He worked behind the scenes on a Coldplay album once but don’t hold that against him.

Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle.

Laura Marling attended one of the most expensive and exclusive private schools in the country and has since re-located to Los Angeles. Let’s forget all about that though because she’s so cute and tiny and sings folksy songs about stones and England and eagles and other country things. Despite being just 23 this is already her third nomination for the Mercury Prize, which suggests that the Mercury judges don’t already own enough Joni Mitchell albums.

Laura Mvula – Sing to the Moon

With her shaven head and startling Nina Simone-like voice, Laura Mvula is possibly the most naturally talented individual on the Mercury shortlist. With her lightweight gospel-jazz glued permanently to Radio 2 she’s the Mercury nominee your gran has heard of. She won’t win but deserves some props for being the first “token jazz nominee” in a few years to win over an audience outside her immediate family.

Rudimental – Home

On the back of their monster drum n’ bass n’ brass hit ‘Feel the Love’ this gang of Londoners seemingly graced the stage at every single summer festival this year with their funky riffs and shamelessly dumb drops uniting gurning nonces in day-glo vests like no other. Up against Disclosure they haven’t a hope of walking away with the prize but they probably had more fun than most getting here.

Savages – Silence Yourself

A four girl Joy Division tribute band with an impressive agenda and a fondness for monochrome, Savages’ arrived in a cascade of internet hype early in 2013. Sadly their debut album went on to sell about six copies but if you’re colour-blind or have a new girlfriend you need to impress consider leaving it lying around your flat.

Villages – Awayland

Dark and lyrical Celtic mysticism or emo-boy jotter poetry? The second record from Conor O’Brien picks up a Mercury nomination to match that of his acclaimed debut Becoming A Jackal. Drawing as much from Woolf and Plath as Radiohead and Van Morrison, he’s a well-read kid and now comes with added ill-advised techno flourishes. Given how many people seem to think that Snow Patrol just rock too hard, he’s probably an outside bet for the prize.

The Mercury Prize Winner 2013 will be announced on October 30th.

[Max Sefton]

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