Mercury Rising: The Newcomers Who Can

Clash lists 10 nomination-worthy British debuts…
Alt-J winning the Mercury Prize

On September 11th, the Barclaycard Mercury Prize will announce the shortlisted 12 albums that will compete – if compete is the right word – for its annual award of quite a few grand and a neat little trophy.

Every year, the Mercury manages to shed some valuable light on standout British and Irish debut LPs – and sometimes these first-timers even walk away with the prize(s). In 2012, Alt-J won with their first album, ‘An Awesome Wave’, and similar success has come the way of debuts by Klaxons (2007), The xx (2010) and Dizzee Rascal (2003).

(Look at them up there, that Alt-J lot. Look how happy they are! Lovely, lovely stuff.)

Because there’s been a whole lot of great British debuts recently, Clash thought it wise to list some here – just in case the Mercury judges were still short a couple of candidates.

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Disclosure – ‘Settle’

Need we really add anything more to the story (so far) of Disclosure? Naw, we don’t reckon so. If the Mercury panel was to lean towards a dance-goes-pop crossover of the past few months, though, it’s hard to see/hear beyond this set, which scored a number one on the albums chart on its May release. Click here to read our review of ‘Settle’

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Outfit – ‘Performance’

A genius melding of psychedelic rock and something rather more understated – a shiny, shimmering façade enclosing a tender heart – ‘Performance’ is a record that seeps into the listener and, come its moment of connection, simply refuses to budge from the conscience. Liverpool’s Outfit could well be the Django Django of 2013: makers of a clever, artsy but wholly inclusive album that uses the Mercury as a springboard to reach its deserved wider audience. Of course, they could go one better and ‘do an Alt-J’. Read our review here

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Deptford Goth – ‘Life After Defo’

And so 2013 furthers the relationship between exquisite music and palpable heartbreak. Daniel Woolhouse, for he is Deptford Goth, sings in a manner that can only manifest through seeking out the dark corners within us all – those same corners that we’re usually so wary of wandering into. ‘Life After Defo’ is a wonderfully haunting collection, able to express an experimental edge but always anchored by relatable emotions. It’s pop, in short, but of the serrated, sharp-edged kind; the kind that bleeds you out as you tune in, and leaves you overwhelmed. Read Clash’s review here

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Melt Yourself Down – ‘Melt Yourself Down’

From an album consumed by a distinct darkness to one that makes the average commuter dance their way down an entire train on the Northern Line, high-fiving every stranger to acknowledge their shimmy with a cheeky wink. Featuring former members of Acoustic Ladyland alongside musicians who’ve served in/as Hello Skinny, Sons Of Kemet and more, this avant-jazz-goes-apocalyptic (via Acapulco) collective could qualify as a ‘token’ inclusion on this year’s Mercury shortlist. You know what we mean by that. But few LPs of 2013 are as purely joyous as this one, a boisterous bop-about affair which colours every grey day the colours purple and red and green and blue, violet and pink and yellow and…

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Savages – ‘Silence Yourself’

Again, there’s little that needs saying on this set, such has its presence been across the music press (read: ubiquitous). Potent and politically charged, but not short of a healthy dollop of melody, it’s one of those snarling offerings that, the more time you spend with it, ultimately reveals itself as pretty darn accomplished pop. Read Clash’s review here

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MONEY – ‘The Shadow Of Heaven’

So this one isn’t out yet, due as it is later in August – but you’ll certainly be reading more about ‘The Shadow Of Heaven’, and its Manchester-based makers, on these pages really bloody soon. Signed to Bella Union, MONEY immediately left a considerable impression with the in-house Clash bods when we had them on in the office. We’re hearing traces of Wild Beasts, perhaps a little British Sea Power in there – that quintessentially British indie eclecticism, alongside a cracked, yearning quality in the vocals. Electric live, more subtly spellbinding on record, MONEY might just be cashing in come the Mercury Prize ceremony. (Sorry.)

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Daughter – ‘If You Leave’

Has there been a more beautiful debut set of 2013, from a British act, than this? Daughter’s profile has blossomed, from under-the-radar write-ups to Radio 1 playlists, ever since they shook hands on a deal with 4AD, but it’s safe to say that this band would have reached the same giddy heights regardless of their label’s (highly impressive) reputation. Cutting deep and lasting long, these are bruised songs that have resonated through the months – and they might well do so for years to come.

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Lapalux – ‘Nostalchic’

A Brit abroad: Essex native Stuart Howard has landed on Los Angeles imprint Brainfeeder for his debut LP, a rightly Flying Lotus-approved collection of twisted beats and knotted melodies. Some will hear hip-hop motifs aplenty here. Others, ghosts of dubstep echoing into a dark bassbin. There’s chopped-and-pasted R&B, too: everything making sense, yet residing not quite where it ‘should’ be. Aggressively creative, yet accessible beside its boldness, ‘Nostalchic’ is one of 2013’s electro set that keeps on giving. Read our review here

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Cloud Boat – ‘Book Of Hours’

Cloud Boat is a duo that, like Lapalux, walks the line dividing contemporary electro and something other, a music that serves as both attention-focus and accompaniment at once. (Something almost post-rock.) There is a flavour to their arrangements that smacks of previous Mercury nominee James Blake – but that’s not meant as any sort of slight. More, that there’s recognisable elements to this mix, nuances to hold onto as the Cloud Boat pair journeys into territories marked for their exploration alone. Original, and not a little bit captivating, at turns urban-hub busied and stark as a night-time desert, ‘Book Of Hours’ is an album to drift into with absolute commitment. Read Clash’s review here

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Benin City – ‘Fires In The Park’

Unpredictability is a rare quality in today’s pop world, but London-based outfit Benin City make a fair stab at leaving the listener guessing across the course of their debut set. There’s warm brass in here, orbiting taut electric motifs, and there’s an evident hip-hop influence at play, too. A worthy parallel would be with (again, previous Mercury nominees) The Invisible, an act also combining diverse constituents to comprise an absorbing new whole. There’s soul to Benin City, articulated through the vocals of frontman Joshua Idehen. But it’s detectable, too, in the music surrounding him: somewhat spooked, on edge, but so very sure of its course. Read our review here

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What do you make of this lot, then? Got some of your own favourite British (and Irish) debuts, that could contest this year’s Mercury Prize? Tweet us, come say hello on Facebook, or leave a comment below.

(And can everyone stop calling it the Mercury Music Prize, please? It hasn't been called that for bladdy yonks. Thanks!)

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