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Alternative Mercury Music Prize!

Photograph of the blog post author, Mary Woodcock

Mary Woodcock

29.10.2013

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So the Mercury Prize, the annual music prize awarded for the best album from the United Kingdom and Ireland (though the nominees aren’t always from these places, see the Guillemots being nominated in 2006) is upon us this Wednesday. The prize was originally meant to be an alternative to the Brit awards and was created in 1992.

Nominations are chosen by a panel of musicians, music executives, journalists and other figures in the music industry in the UK and Ireland. Presnetations of the award usually takes place in November, and it is often thought that bands whose albums are nominated or win the prize experience large increases in the sales.

There has only been one winner who has won it on more than one occasion and that was P.J. Harvey in 2001 (Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea) and 2011 (Let England Shake). Other notable winners are Arctic Monkeys, Dizzee Rascal, Primal Scream and The XX.

Though there have in the past, been some rather baffling decisions made for choice to be winner, with M People winning in 1994 with ‘Elegant Slumming’ beating rather amazing albums by Blur (Parklife), The Prodigy (Music for the Jilted Generation) and Pulp (His n Hers). Another amazing decision was Speech Debelle in 2009 who beat Florence and the Machine, The Horrors, Kasabian and Friendly Fires to win! (If you can remember the name of that Speech Debelle album off by heart, you are a greater music buff than me sir!)

Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, the winner is announced on Wednesday with the nominees being:

  • Arctic Monkey’s – AM
  • David Bowie – The Next Day
  • Disclosure – Settle
  • Foals – Holy Fire
  • Jake Bugg – Jake Bugg
  • James Blake – Overgrown
  • Jon Hopkins – Immunity
  • Laura Marling – Once I was an Eagle
  • Laura Mvula – Sing to the Moon
  • Rudimental – Home
  • Savages – Silence Yourself
  • Villagers – (Awayland)

The long time favourite was Bowie & Disclosure, but recently there has been some movement in the market, with Laura Mvula now the odds on favourite to take the prize home.

But I believe they have missed a trick here, they have missed out some amazing albums that should definitely be on the list, especially if we use the prize’s own version of artistic license of using criteria that actually lets the committee nominate albums that aren’t from the British or Irish Isles exclusively (were looking at you Guillemots and Savages.)

Anyway, here are my list of 6 albums that I believe should be on the list below, see what you thin:

Queens of the Stone Age – … Like Clockwork

As is often the case with Homme’s musical projects, he hasassembled a rogue’s gallery of co-conspirators. If the record is anchored by the inclusion of Grohl and Olivieri, it is also thrust towards the heavens with flighty contributions from Elton John (the original queen from the stone age), Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears, Trent Reznor and Homme protégé Alex Turner but – crucially – at no point do they take the focus away from the furious rock n’ roll swagger which Homme infuses through the album.

…Like Clockwork is QOTSA’s most complete album since ‘Songs for the Deaf’. It contains within it all of the hallmarks through which Josh Homme has forged his band’s identity, particularly the crunchy stoner-rock which they’ve become synonymous with, but there are also elements of corrosive sensuality throughout suggesting that Homme has added another trick to his already impressive songwriting persona. The man is a legend, and this is one hell of a album.

Bloc Party – 4

Four is far harder-edged than any of their music since Silent Alarm or their early EPs, and they spend equal time in familiar territory and breaking new ground. “So He Begins to Lie,” with its lumbering, angular riffs and political overtones, could have easily appeared on their debut, while “V.A.L.I.S.” and the excellent single “Octopus” distill everything great about their pop side — precise melodies, spring-loaded guitars, expertly deployed tension and release — into songs that seem poised for flight.

Meanwhile, ballads such as “Day Four” and “Truth” are pretty but a touch predictable, serving more as breathers between the album’s onslaughts than as attractions in their own right. Four’s real star is guitarist Russell Lissack, who unleashes hesher-friendly riffs and solos with the pent-up fury of a four-year break behind him. He gives “Team A”‘s menacing dance-punk extra heft and fuels “3 x 3″‘s anguished tug-of-war with churning riffs that make it one of the album’s most thrilling moments. Things get even gnarlier on “Kettling,” which boasts surging riffs that actually recall Foo Fighters et al to mine, and on “Coliseum,” which begins as a bluesy shuffle and ends as a metallic grind that would do QOTSA proud.

It’s awkward, but it’s also interesting and completely unlike anything they’ve done before. Songs like this and the album’s closing rant “We’re Not Good People” show just how much fight there is in this album, and in Bloc Party; they sought new life in their music and their collaboration, and they found it. Four may not be as cohesive as Silent Alarm, but it just might be more vital.

Everything Everything – Arc

Not much makes sense in the world of Everything Everything, least of all the lyrics. The claim of making a simpler emotional connection here than on their debut Man Alive is not an idle one – the opening line of Duet (“Do you feel left behind, like there’s something not right?”) might as well be Jessie J connecting with the kids. But then she’d be unlikely to follow it up with “there were fistfuls of hair round the foot of my chair”. Or claim that she could be “the dolphin of your dreams”. Or ever use the word “genuflecting”. Occasionally, various words threaten to coalesce into a message – Cough Cough deals with the corrosive power of money, and Radiant carries themes of knowledge and science – but it’s a clever or deluded soul who can claim to be vastly the wiser.

But the vital ingredient here is not the songs but the performance of Higgs, holding it all together with a falsetto croon that drips not with golden honey but thickly-spread marmite, dividing opinions with every vocal inflection and tic. Resolutely uncool, he somehow retains an attractive everyman demeanour despite the obstinately eccentric genre-hopping music he figureheads – he’s neither foul-mouthed greasy-haired indie-rock yob nor urban minstrel with sob story tattooed to neck. There’s neither swag nor swagger here, just talent and a single-minded creative vision worth every gasping breath it takes to keep up with. An amazing album.

Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

I’ve been trying to pinpoint why Frank Ocean’s astonishing success is one of music’s most heartening stories in recent years. The simple answer is that we want to see talent rewarded. Too frequently the hype around a rising artist is just that, variations on I-was-there-first nonsense. If anything, Frank Ocean’s ascent has been gradual and a bit understated. He built his clout early with some songwriting credits for established hitmakers and as a member of Odd Future, a collective bursting with oversized personalities. Despite already being signed to Def Jam, Ocean self-released his debut Nostalgia, ULTRA in early 2011.

One of Frank Ocean’s gifts is a rare purity; another is an equally rare modesty, which can be deceptive. Comparisons to Stevie Wonder and Prince are apt, but only to a certain extent. Ocean’s style, more than his ingenuity, matches those masters’ – for now at least. If I had to point to another artist who Ocean recalls, it would be Mary J. Blige. Like Blige, Ocean radiates compassion and warmth despite the bleak themes and broken people of his songs. Ocean is an observer, especially of woe, and the woe is often his. There’s nothing boastful or sexy about him or his music. He is the antidote to the kind of swagger and decadence albums such as, well, Watch the Throne celebrate.

Hurts – Exile

Exile apparently hit hiccoughs in early development, as the band were “too happy to write”. For an outfit known for their grim outlook, that was clearly a problem. But somewhere, everything must’ve gone wrong for them, as we find ourselves now on the cusp on album numero dos. It’s still very much synth-pop, but there are tinges of R’n’B and an elegant pop embrace, even more so than before. This LP is a self-assured step away from what they’ve done previously – it’s a turn to the dark side. If viewed as part of an anthology, these two records are perhaps reflections on dealing with grief – they succeed in essence becoming concept albums, surrounding one stage of the grieving process. Happiness, ironically, is depression; Exile is rage.

Exile careers towards the mainstream and is brimming with Top 40 hooks. They’re a pair with sights on pop megastardom – they’ve never claimed to be anything but (note that Fame Academy alumnus David bloody Sneddon wrote three songs on their debut). For those with problems about their integrity: move along. Hurts aren’t, and never have been, something to take 100% seriously. It’s swooning drama of the highest calibre, the kind of dark-pop that Spandau Ballet and Depeche Mode found fame with (yes, there’s still that New Romantic/Goth element floating about). If you’re able to look past the campy facade and accept that this is purely a record of glimmering pop, it’ll be something you’ll cherish. If you can’t hack this reveal, maybe it’s time to lighten up, because Exile is great.

Drenge – Drenge

Rory and Eoin Loveless, the brothers who make up Drenge, have shown themselves to be rather bloody sage indeed. Because, they ask, why bother wallowing in the primordial punk swamp with a po-faced grimace and a stick made of solid tedium rammed up your backside? Why be stuck in grunge’s self-loathing gloop? Why settle for self-important dreariness when, instead, you could be like Drenge: a pair of 20-somethings from the sleepy English village Castleton, who’ve realised that making a nasty, feral racket can actually sound like a whole lotta fun.

All those early comparisons to The White Stripes and The Black Keys, then, feel increasingly wide of the mark. There’s a whiff of studious endeavour from both Dan ‘n’ Patrick and (latter-day, post-humour lobotomy) Jack ‘n’ Meg that makes being a din-wreaking duo seem like a glum burden; a tiresome chore like varnishing a fence, or passionless missionary-style rutting carried out with a ‘lie back and think of your Amp’ sense of duty.

Drenge, though, is giddily goofy. Take ‘Dogmeat’: a sludgy little thing with Eoin rasping out the delightfully daft come-on of “Cut out my tongue and turn it to dog meat/ Give it to the hobo, give him words to eat.” The same goes, too, for the glitzily ramshackle stomp of ‘I Want To Break You In Half’, which sees them unleash a volley of schoolyards threats against an enemy (“I’m going to do you wrong, make you run to the hills/ Make you piss your pants”) over a howl-heavy blitz.

Of course, Drenge aren’t reinventing the wheel, here. Sometimes, on the throwaway thrash-about likes of ‘Gun Crazy’ and ‘Bye Bye Bao Bao’, they’re barely greasing it. Labour MP Tom Watson may have famously cited the duo as being response for some sort of life-changing epiphany, the impetus for him resigning from his job, but it’s hard to see Drenge having quite that watershed impact on all and sundry. What it will do, though, is make your life a hell of a lot more enjoyable – and only a fool, surely, would sniff at that?

Have I missed any great albums out of my list? Who do you think will win the Mercury? Who do you think should win (those are 2 very different questions, in my opinion AM should win, but I reckon it’s nailed on Bowie or Mvula now). Do you think the Mercury is a good gauge of the best albums of the last year?

Anyway, as always share tweet and comment below! We love hearing from you!

Cheers!


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