The Hyundai Mercury Prize is almost upon us once more.
One of the most important award nights in the British (and Irish!) music calendar, it remains endearingly difficult to predict and pleasingly chaotic.
Whether that's Young Fathers hosting a monosyllabic press conference, Skepta swooping to conquer, or The xx leading the prize away in twilight grandeur the Mercury has supplied more than its fair share of magical moments.
This year could be a bumper crop with all manner of talking points. The ongoing success of UK jazz could well be represented, the panel have to decide which Gallagher brother to back (or neither, if they wish), and they have the tiny issue of following Sampha's emotional, engrossing, and thoroughly deserved victory last year.
With British music healthier, broader, and more diverse than ever, it should be a golden year. The shortlist is announced at 11am tomorrow (July 26th) – here's who we think should be in there…
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Shame – 'Songs Of Praise'
We said: "In context and execution, ‘Songs Of Praise’ is one of the most daring, scorching, seethingly intelligent, and at times downright funny British guitar albums to come our way in years."
Let’s Eat Grandma – 'I'm All Ears'
We said: "Like a magic eye puzzle falling into place, ‘I’m All Ears’ has only slightly shifted the band’s focus, but suddenly it all makes sense. ‘Hot Pink’ had signalled scuzzier intentions, but that track’s crushing drop transpires to be only one of many tricks up the Norfolk duo’s sleeves. Later singles ‘It’s Not Just Me’ and ‘Falling Into Me’ sound nothing short of invincible, the latter continually shapeshifting each time you think you’ve got it nailed down."
SOPHIE – 'OIL OF EVERY PEARL's UN-INSIDES'
We said: "It seems that SOPHIE has taken on her most challenging project yet: her true self. And this theme permeates ‘OIL OF EVERY PEARL’s UN-INSIDES’, even if, musically, the rest of the album returns to the kind of tracks you’d expect if you’ve followed SOPHIE’s career up to this point."
Jon Hopkins – 'Singularity'
We said: "Highlights ‘Emerald Rush’ and ‘Everything Connected’ are as lush as they promise, both ready for emotional unboxing in your choice of Boiler Room or bedroom. ‘C O S M’ is the first dramatic reduction in pace, but proves to be only temporary respite, as the album’s second half builds to a glorious finale. Hopkins remains in ascension, and no one is on his level right now."
Sons Of Kemet – 'Your Queen Is A Reptile'
We said: "Recorded with his Sons of Kemet group, featuring the tuba of ‘We Out Here’’s Theon Cross and the double drums of Tom Skinner and Seb Rochford, Hutchings combines the lassitude of dub with a propulsive swing in putting forward his vision of ‘alternative queens’ to replace our own."
Hookworms – 'Microshift'
We said: "The glittery samples of ‘Each Time We Pass’ reach out and spread until they unfold in a sea of technicolour, while ‘Reunion’ has Hookworms going all Blade Runner with a track that could easily pass as an ode to Vangelis’ ‘Love Theme’. This record is truly marvellous. Reborn through anguish, Hookworms are alive and otherworldly as ever."
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – 'Who Built The Moon?'
We said: "It is perhaps fitting that even its creator is unhelpfully setting the bar too high for ‘Who Built The Moon?’ as so many listeners will come to this with expectations of what he should be doing right now and be disappointed as a consequence. It’s not an Oasis record and it’s not a wholly experimental album either. However, it is his best work in an age and an interesting marker for a Weller-esque creative purple patch from an artist rediscovering their sense of purpose. As winter descends, these songs offer up an enveloping array of melody and an endearingly gleeful playfulness that is hard to resist."
Leon Vynehall – 'Nothing Is Still'
We said: "Leon Vynehall’s evolution as a producer has been fascinating. ‘Nothing Is Still’ retains the sultry atmosphere and warm synths of his previous work; but departs from Chicago house nostalgia for a melting pot of jazz fusion, ambient sound collage and trip-hop."
Arctic Monkeys – 'Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino'
We said: "The most pioneering bands in history make music that doesn’t initially make sense and which refuses to pander to the needs of fans – they forge unexpected and original directions. Hence why you’d be forgiven for feeling underwhelmed after this piece’s first few spins, but a degree of perseverance is required before its stars can align. Whilst your first few visits to the ‘Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino’ may feel alien and unwelcoming, you will gravitate ever closer to its shimmering outer-space treasures with each stay."
Jorja Smith – 'Lost & Found'
We said: "Any artist of note will tell you they’re influenced by all kinds of different musical genres, and Jorja Smith is no exception. On ‘Lost & Found’, the hook on ‘Teenage Fantasy’ is straight out of an early ‘00s R&B cut. Jazz exerts a force right from the album’s title track (and indeed throughout) and, needless to say, Dizzee Rascal interpolation ‘Blue Lights’ nods to her affinity with rap, a discipline in which she regrettably dabbles on freestyle ‘Lifeboats’. The moments at which Smith manages to distill any of these genres into something entirely her own are truly special."
Young Fathers – 'Cocoa Sugar'
We said: "What elevates ‘Cocoa Sugar’ beyond the long line of protest records, is that so many of the battles projected in song are internal. Three young men clashing with their own personal, moral dilemmas, their faith, their own vices and that by virtue of slick song craft, create a universal experience. ‘Cocoa Sugar’ is a record that merits mass appeal recognition, a timely offering educing the moral panic fever reigning over our everyday existence."
Wolf Alice – 'Visions Of A Life'
We said: "From the snarling ‘Yuk Foo’ (“You bore me to death, well deplore me”) to the sparkling ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ (“I wanna tell the whole world about you, I think that that’s a sign”), it’s a record that appears to document visions of a life filled with loss, uncertainty and the anxieties that follow."
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