> The 12 acts nonimated for the prestigious Mercury Prize have been announced
> Sara Majhutiak discusses the nominees and explains who she believes are the strongest contenders
The Mercury Prize is arguably one of the trickiest music competitions to call. Each year a broad spectrum of albums are handpicked by a panel of music industry insiders and put forward to win the lucrative £20,000 prize and gain greater media exposure. The line up for this year’s nominees is an exciting one, as we see once again a great mix of talent and style representing the British music scene.
First on the list is Alt J with their debut album An Awesome Wave. This Cambridgeshire quartet have received limited airplay but this has not hindered them in the slightest if the crowd at Reading Festival was anything to go by. Critics have struggled to define the genre of the music but they are creating something new and exciting with their mixture of folk, dubstep beats and faultless harmonies. One track can feel like a combination of three, yet it flows effortlessly just like all the tracks on the album and this experimentation and bravery to think outside the box creates a winning formula. The songwriting is refreshing and genius, these guys thoroughly deserve the nomination and could be the dark horse of the competition.
Singer-songwriter Ben Howard debuts his album Every Kingdom and, while it is safe to say the music industry is flooded with this genre, Howard himself is a step above the rest. Already his stand out hits “Wolves” and “Only Love” have triumphed in placing in the mainstream charts, and there is something mesmerising about his unique playing style and soothingly rich voice. A talented performer, there has been much hype about his live performances of this album as well, standing a good chance in this competition.
Django Django’s self titled album is next on the list offering a playful and unpredictable track list. The band combines African drum beats with 60’s psychedelic guitar riffs whilst still maintaining their own modernised twist on the songs. From the slower paced “Hand of Man”, which explores the start of humanity, there is no order just adventure on this album and the chilled out vibes of Django Django leave you in a dream like trance. With their catchy beats and uplifting lyrics it’s no wonder this band are creating a buzz in the London music scene.
Field Music have been around for a few more years than most on the Mercury Nominations list, first breaking out in 2004, Plumb is their fourth full length album embracing their pop-rock music that has already won them many fans. Touching on a combination of themes; politics, identity, culture and community, the album released in early February this year has already been creating waves in the music industry circles. Critics have praised the band’s album for its ambitious and exciting combination of rock, pop and seventies nostalgia.
Starting out as a guest vocalist for the likes of SBTRKT, Jessie Ware’s debut album Devotion has generated a lot of noise thanks to her title track “Wildest Moments”. There is something for everyone on the album from the emotional but universal ballad “Wildest Moments” to the upbeat and punchier “110%”. Her voice is effortless and understated, letting the music speak for itself rather than trying to fit into a particular niche, making her a strong contender.
Is Your Love Big Enough? is soul singer Lianne La Havas’s first album and at twenty-two years old, this London born performer offers more creativity than your average, acoustic singer songwriter. There are bursts of jazz chords mixed in with folk ballads and she isn’t afraid to add punchier beats and lyrics to her songs. The rich tone of her voice is reminiscent of smooth R&B jams but there are hints of Bon Iver’s Indie style about her. She has received support from BBC Radio 6 this year and even just being nominated will help her talent gain more recognition.
The Maccabees are really coming into their stride with their third studio album Given to the Wild. Already their first two albums have generated them an army of loyal fans and this third album has allowed them the freedom and creativity to try new techniques. In particular the last song “Grew up at Midnight” is particularly striking with its harmonies and the album is well structured as they move towards experimenting with a more electronic sound. “Pelican” already a big hit is the stand out from this faultless album.
Perhaps one of the lesser known artists to make the list is 24-year old Michael Kiwanuka whose soulful tones has already landed him the BBC Sound of 2012 award. Kiwanuka released his debut album Home Again in March this year and with his mix of folk, blues and jazz it’s not hard to see why he has already been compared to Bill Withers. Handpicked to tour with Adele last year, Kiwanuka is already becoming a hit with the big names in music.
Released as the soundtrack to Plan B/ Ben Drew’s film of the same name, Ill Manors is already being hailed as a “hip-hop musical for the 21st Century”. Drew has already displayed his early talents of soulful singing and rapping in “Praying” and his latest album could serve as a masterclass in songwriting. “I am the Narrator” sets the tone for the gritty realism Drew describes, his lyrical depth branching further in this darker, third album and he is a superb storyteller. The production as well is to such a high standard with the layers of harmonies, piano and short bursts of dialogues all serving to heighten his grisly image of Broken Britain.
Along with Plan B, Richard Hawley is also favourite to scoop the award this year although the two could not be further apart in musical style. Standing at the Sky’s Edge sees Hawley move away from the softer instruments fans are used to, he has traded the acoustic guitars and saws for a more psychedelic, rock sound. Hawley proves he is so much more than an one trick pony in the release of his seventh album and this could divide his loyal fans.
One of the big surprises and the least well known to the nominees list are Roller Trio who are certainly one of a kind. They are an instrumental band combining funk, jazz and electronic sounds to create a fresh new sound, on paper it shouldn’t work but the trio have great chemistry and timing. With the release of their debut album Roller Trio in August this year they have been modernising jazz and bringing it into the 21st century by fusing it with more contemporary genres. Keep an eye on this band they are certainly making a big impact on the jazz scene.
Reinventing the tradition of folk stories into modern songs is Sam Lee and his debut album Ground of Its Own. So much research has gone into the songwriting and retelling of these stories which Lee himself has heard from Gypsy and Traveller communities shown in the intimate delivery of “Goodbye My Darling”. There are more uplifting tracks such as “One Yonder Hill” and Lee uses a range of instruments from sleigh bells to steel drums and even trumpets on the same song. This all compliments his medieval style of lyrics and although not everyone will be a fan, Lee brings a real freshness to the genre of folk music.
Bookies’ early favourites are Plan B and Richard Hawley but there is fierce competition from the lesser known artists who are creating just as bigger impact on the internet and through word of mouth.
The £20,000 Mercury Prize will be announced on 1 November