The Mercury Music Prize shortlist is announced tonight, and in keeping with tradition, Strictly will attempt to predict the shortlist.
Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
Whether you buy Alt-J as subdued innovators delivering intricately interwoven soundscapes, or as simply a cynical amalgamation of a lot of the most prevalent sounds in modern indie, matters little. These incredibly likeable lads have made a huge impact with their debut album An Awesome Waves. At times it’s unnervingly fiddly, in other moments it is simply serene, but whatever it qualities and weaknesses, it captured the public’s imagination shooting into the Top 20 and stunning the music industry.
The album is relatively odd, flitting between Wild Beasts tranquility and Grizzly Bears’ surprising harmonies, with the idiosyncrasies of both Thom Yorke and Ariel Pink. Alt-J have real momentum, and they’re undeniably interesting, and that might just be enough to carry them to the Mercury Music Prize.
Jessie Ware – Devotion
If Katy B was an absolute lock in 2011, then Jessie Ware deserves the same respect in 2012. Post-dub step’s continued development, and it’s conversion to the pop charts, is still one of the most prominent stories in the music industry. Devotion is the work of a woman with a strong background in both pop and soul, perhaps more so than dubstep, and Jessie’s phenomenal vocal and character lie at the heart of this LP. When the two extremes combine on the smokily intense and gorgeously understated title track Ware appears peerless. The work of three additional collaborators, each personality brings something distinct to the LP without overshadowing Ware herself. She always feels natural, on the dance floor, belting out a grandstanding ballad, or showing some homely fragility.
Django Django – Django Django
Depending on who constitutes the judging panel at the Mercury’s this year, these Scottish art-poppers could just walk away with Prize. Journalists love this band, and there is an undeniable feeling of warmth towards the awkward, unabashedly nerdy, psychedelia of Django Django’s debut. For an album that was always going to be a little too odd for mainstream success, Django Django, doesn’t half sound epic. From the portentous intro through the cold blooded dancefloor workouts and bizarre vocal exchanges, this album feels mammoth – and yet, for all the intricacies, it still feels like it’s been played by four fidgety lads huddled awkwardly together in the corner of a disinterested night club.
Rustie – Glass Swords
Suffice to say it will be an unmitigated disaster if Glass Swords is snubbed by this year’s judging panel. Rustie can legitimately claim to have made the most tangible impact of any artist in the last twelve months. This veteran of the Glaswegian warehouse scene, brought together the emerging maximalist dance scene and crystalized it in one stunningly arrange scatterbrained assault of an LP.
Exuberant, colourful, suffering from a chronic case of ADHD, however, you describe the composite sound of Glass Swords, there is no doubt that it instantly inspired a legion of imitators and changed the trajectory of electronic music.
Actress – R.I.P
Of course not all electronica went maximalist in 2012. Actress, who has been making frankly remarkable music for the best part of eight years without ever really getting his due, may be in line for recognition in 2012. R.I.P received universal acclaim, without ever really seeping out to a wider audience. While minimal abstract electronica is not normally the fare of the Mercury Music Prize, R.I.P. is a sell-able record, it’s haunting, subdued, and not abundantly challenging. In a genre dominated by French and American heavyweights, 2012 might be the year when Britain’s most prestigious music prize waves the flage for emerging electronica.
Cate Le Bon – CYRK
It’s always difficult to guess where exactly the Mercury Prize will go with their customary folk/quirky indie pick, but I think Cate Le Bon could be a safe and satisfying selection. Not only is her album CYRK suitably inventive (just when you think you’ve got a track pegged it will careen off instrumentally), but it has a great commercial potential. NME readers could potential enjoy this LP, and given the right exposure this avante pop superstar could find a wider audience.
The Maccabees – Given To The Wild
Whether Given To The Wild is actually good enough to win the Mercury Music Prize is incredibly debateable, but what The Maccabees third album does demonstrate is a streak of inventiveness and daring within modern indie. It’s not a showstopper, but it is a well-conceived and heartfelt album that struck a chord with a generation of indie lovers. The album took The Maccabees off the back burner and thrust them into the spotlight, leading to a triumphant headline slot at Reading Festival. Tender, Given To The Wild, never felt impetuous and was happy to flow downstream gently building toward a series of great releases. An outsider to win, but a solid nominee.
Hot Chip – In Our Heads
In Our Heads may not be as exciting and of the moment as Hot Chip’s stunning breakthrough The Warning, but it might just be their most accomplished record to date. Building on the infectious and sincere One Life Stand, In Our Heads is astoundingly shrewd. The beats are gorgeous, and the now costmary Hot Chip palette has expanded to included post-dubstep, new-wave R’n’B, dizzy funk, and more focused house without sacrificing any of the band’s off kilter character. “Motion Sickness” effectively earns a nomination singlehandedly, a staggeringly earnest ode to the pace of progression and getting caught up in the rush of the new. Elsewhere, Hot Chip celebrate their journey and the strength of lasting relationships, it’s not glamourous, but it is daring and essential in its own way.
Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow
Kate Bush is the kind of artist who was made for the Mercury Music Prize. 50 Words For Snow probably earned a nomination before a single judge had even heard the record, and yet, unlike some other nominees of recent years (Elbow, Radiohead), there is no questioning the brilliance of this LP. Barmy, beautiful, and perfectly judged, all the insanity (including Stephen Fry) works to perfection and the entire album sounds mellifluous and oddly inspiring. Bush’s vocal is sublime throughout, and even on her barest arrangements, she never fails to captivate on some of the lengthiest tracks of her career.
Slow Club – Paradise
It’s slim pickings in 2012 and that might just allow Sheffield’s folk-pop duo Slow Club to sneak in the back door. Their album Paradise never quite clicked, but it showed plenty of promise, and an intelligent approach to composition. For a genre that is often derailed by pedestrian and predictable arrangements, Slow Club appeared unafraid to let their tracks grow in stature while migrating sonically. Don’t count them out, just yet.
Wiley – Evolve Or Be Extinct
For the second straight year Strictly Festivals is backing Wiley. Evolve Or Be Extinct stands in stark and ungainly contrast to last year’s sleek anthem friendly LP 100% Publishing. Wiley never stands still, and whether he’s conquering the charts or wowing the underground, he’s shown a relentless and at times willfully contradictory work ethic. Evolve Or Be Extinct is far from consistent, but it is the kind of terrifying record that shows off Wiley’s flow relentlessly.
Mid Air – Paul Buchanan
Paul Buchanan may have made the most tragic album of 2012. Sitting at his piano, every note seems to drag The Blue Nile singer down, even when the lyrics are charged with hope and optimism, the mood is uncompromisingly bare. There is nowhere to hide on this record for both audience and artist, and thankfully, Buchanan’s tender reflections are nothing short of spell binding.
Don’t Rule Out: Bombay Bicycle Club, The xx, and Laura Marling.