Raise glasses / suppress groans [delete as applicable] – it’s Mercurys season!
The shortlist for the UK’s pre-eminent music award is due to be announced tomorrow – which, judging by recent shortlists, means a half-cocked list of MOR plod-fodder, polite indie picks and well-meaning but misplaced nods to club culture.
As per last year, we’ll be offering our unvarnished guide to the shortlist once it’s been released. For now, though, we’ve canvassed the office staff and pulled together a list of the albums that, in any just world, should be getting nominated.
We’ve slightly bent the rules (eligible albums require a “UK physical release”, whereas some of our inclusions are digital-only affairs) but these are the pick of the last 12 months of British music. Last year, an eminently FACT-friendly artist walked away with the trophy – can it happen again? (Answer: unless FKA Twigs nabs it, almost certainly not).
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Angels and Devils
Kevin Martin’s already released two very viable Mercury contenders – 2008’s London Zoo, and King Midas Sound’s immaculate 2010 LP Waiting For You – and been slighted both times. Angels & Devils isn’t as timely as the former or as Mercury-friendly as the latter, but its high-concentrate cockatil of trap, ragga and industrial kicks like a mule. Provided the judges can get on board with its good cop/bad cop structure, it’s a heavyweight release.
Chances: Martin’s Mercury moment has, sadly, probably passed – but if one of those titular angels is looking down on him, it’s not impossible.
He’s released a lot of tunes, has Nick Edwards (14 albums since 2010 if Discogs is to be believed), but his Planet Mu debut is undoubtedly his most coherent statement to date. Whether this means that the Mercury panel would kick out their usual disdain for experimental music, we’re not sure, but he probably wouldn’t care either way – he’s likely penning another three albums.
Chances: Slim at best, but there’s always hope. Edwards is, of course, from Bristol, home of previous winners Tricky and Roni Size – and we all know that location matters.
A perfectly-pitched video campaign, a carefully-constructed PR one, the year’s most memorable record sleeve and a label that’s no stranger to Mercury wins, let alone nominations…Twigs is about as safe a bet for a Mercury nod as 2014 has. Although not all of the album hits quite as hard as its peaks (‘Two Weeks’, especially), it’s still right up there with the year’s best pop records.
Chances: Dead cert. If this isn’t nominated, we’ll be more red-faced than that album cover.
Flava D Vol. 5
Butterz’ first lady might not officially have a “proper” album, but this collection – which she released via Bandcamp – might be the closest we get for a while. Mercury have long maintained an interest in “urban” music (Speech Debelle, Dizzee Rascal and Ms. Dynamite all took home the prize) so who better to represent us in 2014 than Flava?
Chances: Well, since the record was only released digitally, Flava’s chances are nil. This does highlight an awkward oversight from the Mercury board though – what’s more current than a Bandcamp-only album right now? How long are artists going to have to justify what they do with an arbitrary CD or vinyl pressing before the album is supposedly legitimized?
A Darker Frame
How’s this for a veteran pick? Over the last three decades, Harrow’s been a first-wave UK punk, a sideman in the NDW movement, a Psychic TV collaborator and an On-U sound regular, with jungle, d’n’b and dubstep releases under his belt. Despite having cover art so bad it’s probably already crashed your browser, this collection of trippy electronic miniatures is one of the year’s hidden stunners; if you haven’t heard it yet, you should amend that quicksmart.
Chances: [sound of hell freezing over]
Under The Skin OST
Not so long ago, Micachu and her house band The Shapes made brilliant lo-fi pop skronk with an Art Attack aesthetic. Now, though, she’s a celebrated film composer, with this remarkable OST for Jonathan Glazer’s sci-fi bonkfest Under The Skin likely to prove the first step in an impressive screen career. Inspired by Vangelis and Penderecki, it’s the sort of album the Mercury elders would be prime bozos to ignore.
Chances: Moderate to good – and, given iLL Manors‘ nod in 2012, it wouldn’t be the first OST to make the cut either.
Released at the tail-end of last year, Cold Mission was the first major album to emerge from the Boxed-era of instrumental grime, and although it’s a grime record at heart, its freeform, spacious feel draws comparisons with the wider-reaching and – in theory – more Mercury-friendly category of Onoeohtrix Point Never, Ben Frost, et al.
Chances: Even if he were British, could you see Oneohtrix Point Never winning a Mercury? There you go.
(Rock Action Records)
Formed way back in 1995, when post-rock was in its infancy and Britpop ruled the airwaves, something began to rumble up in Glasgow. That rumble started quietly enough, but soon erupted into a roar – a pattern that Mogwai have been following for close to 20 years. It’s kind of unbelievable then that in 2014 they’ve become relevant once more, with their excellent new album Rave Tapes even making a dent in the UK top 10.
Chances: Mogwai have been nominated for Mercury’s Scottish equivalent (SAY) already this year, but we’re wondering whether their chances be hampered by a very-possible “yes” vote?
KATIE PEARL & DAVINCHE
The label behind Katie Pearl’s nixed debut album didn’t even shell out for a full release, let alone the fee required for Mercurys eligibility, but it’s got everything the awards so often lack: genuine street cred and production that still sounds cutting edge now, let alone back in the early 2000s when it was made.
Chances: Absolutely none, for the reasons above, but we’d like to think – well, dream – that a proper release, PR campaign and a healthy slice of luck could have put in the running. Well, if Speech Debelle can…
The Power and the Glory
Ali Wells’ second album tightens and (ever so slightly) brightens his hobnailed-boots-to-the-windpipe schtick, and the result is one of the most forthright techno albums in yonks. For all the brutality, there’s funk – and, yes, fun – to be found in here. Unfortunately, it’s the anti-Hopkins, and thus will probably be about as welcome at the ceremony as Lord Pearson of Rannoch.
Chances: Q. What Mercury judge could resist an album of scalpel-sharp, Whitehouse-indebted techno? A. All of them, obviously.
Black Light Spiral
Untold promised “fearless rave music” on his long-awaited debut album and we got it: at various points, Black Light Spiral feels burnt out, torn apart, inverted, and at its most confrontational moments, completely imploded. Such classic Mercurys bait that it’s almost as if he planned it, right?
Chances: No chance.
If the Mercurys really fulfilled their stated aims (to take a “snapshot of the year in music”; to “encourage debate and discussion about music”) they’d bend the rules to squeeze on something from the PC Music camp – easily the most polarising force in UK underground music in 2014. Kane West’s just-released freebie album is PC Music to the core: shonky, arty, brilliantly facetious, just about danceable, and tightly packed with gags and surprises.
Chances: It’s not eligible. Don’t forget me when you’re famous, Kane!