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Everything you need to know about the 2014 Mercury Music Prize shortlist

It’s that time again.

The Mercury nominations are in, and — as predicted — it’s a “half-cocked list of MOR plod-fodder, polite indie picks and well-meaning but misplaced nods to club culture.”

There will be plenty of discussion and odds-making during the run-up to the awards, which is why we’ve decided to once again weigh in on the nominees — often figuring out who the hell they actually are, whether they have a snowball’s chance of winning, and whether they’re likely to go the way of Arctic Monkeys or Alt-J.

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Synopsis: Former Blur frontman unleashes cataract of sentimentality

Previous years’ equivalent: Blur – 13 (1999)

Strengths: Portishead’s Dummy won in 1995, and a robot is sort of similar to a dummy…look, it’s not going to win.

Weaknesses: Stacked up next to Albarn’s best records of the last decade (Demon Days; the still-underrated Think Tank), Everyday Robots simply can’t compete.

Chances of winning: I’ll be a Loading Video…

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Where they’ll be in a year’s time: Writing a burletta about FC Judd.


Synopsis: Indie-pop detritus for people who “listen to a bit of everything”.

Previous years’ equivalent: Alt-J – An Awesome Wave (2012)

Strengths: Unoffensive, vaguely danceable pop tunes with enough “experimental” forays into electronic and world music to keep the judges happy.

Weaknesses: Four albums in and still without an identity or recognizable song.

Chances of winning: Well, Alt-J won it, right?

Where they’ll be in a year’s time: Playing the 6pm set on the second stage of some white-bread music festival.


Synopsis: Requisite singer-songwriter does sweeping art rock with Lynchian undertones.

Previous years’ equivalent: Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi (2011)

Strengths: The Mercurys have a soft spot for artists like Bat for Lashes and Florence and the Machine.

Weaknesses: The Mercurys never actually give it to artists like Bat for Lashes and Florence and the Machine.

Chances of winning: Better than the odds of David Lynch doing a movie, but worse than the odds of him doing another commercial.

Where they’ll be in a year’s time: Working on her third album in between Fashion World gigs.


Synopsis: Whiney boy music that sounds a bit like if Radiohead started flirting with witch house; found in the “see also” section of Stuff White People Like.

Previous years’ equivalent: Maps – We Can Create (2007)

Strengths: James Blake paved the way for forlorn mop-tops last year with his Overgrown win, and it’s hard to fault William Doyle’s commitment to the sound.

Weaknesses: It’s so bloody dour. The record ain’t called Total Strife Forever for nothing.

Chance of winning: The album’s achieved a good amount of acclaim, which is important, but if Doyle wants a win we’d guess he’d need another nomination or two first.

Where they’ll be in a year’s time: On an end-of-year best-of list over at The Quietus.


Synopsis: Weirdy, glacial r&b for the web 2.0 generation from an ex-dancer from Gloucestershire.

Previous years’ equivalent: James Blake – Overgrown (2013)

Strengths: The album’s been divisive here at FACT HQ, with many feeling it didn’t punch quite as high as the EPs that preceded it, but there’s no denying that Twigs is a critical darling right now on both sides of the Atlantic.

Weaknesses: It’s basically trip-hop with a hashtag and a fresh lick of paint.

Chance of winning: If LP1 won it would make for a markedly downbeat, electronics-heavy triptych with Alt-J’s An Awesome Wave and James Blake’s Overcome preceding it. We’re not sure the judges will be on board with that.

Where they’ll be in a year’s time: Dancing silently on webcam to Autechre’s ‘Bike’; penning a ‘mysterious’ side-project with Four Tet and ex-members of Asian Dub Foundation.


Synopsis: Young Northern jazz trio with a variety of influences and a truly awful name pen second album with title that was already used by Garbage.

Previous years’ equivalent: Kit Downes Trio – Golden (2010)

Strengths: They’re actually pretty good.

Weaknesses: They’re still called GoGo Penguin; those d’n’b rhythms are so coffeetable the album should come with an Ikea assembly pamphlet.

Chance of winning: Slim to none – Mercury tends to make sure they have jazz picks included just so they can let ‘em down by ignoring them come award time.

Where they’ll be in a year’s time: Being remixed by a dude who’s released two 12”s on Hospital Records and once had a track on a Back to Mine compilation.


Synopsis: Formerly anonymous London duo make pressure-cooked R&B with a chillwavy glow. [courtesy of]

Previous years’ equivalent: Black Grape – It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah (1996)

Strengths: Genuinely doesn’t sound much like much that’s made the shortlist before. Plus anything with even the slightest trip-hop influence is class-A judgenip.

Weaknesses: Songwise, there’s not much heavy lifting going on here.

Chances of winning: Pretty strong – following on from those Alt-J and Jam-B victories, the judges might have reservations about giving it to another downbeat exercise in textural songwriting, and this is probably the cheeriest thing on the list.

Where they’ll be in a year’s time: If they win, probably anonymous again.


Synopsis: Featherlight folkster, formerly of Portico Quarter (who, along with Polar Bear, have seemingly been nominated every year since 1964).

Previous years’ equivalent: Portico Quartet – Knee Deep in the North Sea (2008)

Strengths: The album’s got a nice line in mist-wreathed, slow-burning charm. Owner of an exemplary jawline.

Weaknesses: Exemplary jawlines do not, historically, play well with the panel.

Chances of winning: The Mercurys go for a WTF pick roughly every half-decade, so we are due another Debelle debacle. Even then, though, Mulvey is the Folk Nod: if this was The Apprentice, he’d be out in week one.

Where they’ll be in a year’s time: Being nominated, as the Polar/Portico axis will be until the Ragnarök is upon us.


Synopsis: Long-standing beardy jazz crossover types pen another album of irksome avant noodling.

Previous years’ equivalent: Polar Bear – Held on the Tips of Fingers (2005)

Strengths: They certainly manage to plow through a lot of genres. If the Mercury judges are looking for a timesaver they can just jam this to get their fix of jazz, electronica, d’n’b, funk or whatever else springs to mind 15 seconds after huffing fumes from a dirty bong in some field in the Malvern Hills.

Weaknesses: Hairstyles; flat-caps; enjoyed by fans of “real hip-hop.”

Chance of winning: Well they’ve been nominated before so that surely counts for something? Probably depends on the judges’ complex system of box-ticking.

Where they’ll be in a year’s time: Debuting their new groundbreaking new footwork single at the Jazz Cafe.


Synopsis: Blues-rock duo whose blues influences date all the way back to the White Stripes.

Previous years’ equivalent: Arctic Monkeys – AM (2013)

Strengths: Youthful Sound of 2014-nominees and good fodder for “Rock’s Not Dead” arguments.

Weaknesses: Rock Is Dead.

Chances of winning: Not bad; they’re one of the only two nominees with a number one album this year, so surely the voters have a copy.

Where they’ll be in a year’s time: Recording on a wax cylinder at Jack White’s studio.


Synopsis: Politically inclined rapper/poet with crusty tendencies drops charged and earnest debut for Big Dada.

Previous years’ equivalent: Speech Debelle – Speech Therapy (2009)

Strengths: She’s a very acclaimed poet.

Weaknesses: She’s still a poet.

Chance of winning: Who knows, when Speech Debelle won it surprised just about everyone. Sometimes the judges feel they need to shock everyone, and this would certainly be a statement.

Where they’ll be in a year’s time: Reading excerpts from her novel in the Sheffield branch of Waterstones while dreaming of bin-diving behind a squat in South London.


Synopsis: Anticon-signed alternative hip-hop with touches of early TV on the Radio and roots in Nigeria, Liberia and Scotland.

Previous years’ equivalent: M.I.A. – Arular (2005)

Strengths: As Clash put it, the group has “a singular [British] identity born of multinational mixology.” A feel-good win, whichever way the referendum goes.

Weaknesses: The awards’s sketchy history with alt-rap that doesn’t sound like Speech Debelle.

Chances of winning: Dead in the water.

Where they’ll be in a year’s time: Slightly older Fathers.

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