In little over a week from now The Mercury Prize will have found a new mantelpiece on which to rest. Twelve months on since Alt J’s An Awesome Wave scooped the award, another batch of records have been selected by the Mercury committee to duel it out over the right to claim the UK’s finest album of 2013. The winners will be announced at a suitably swanky ceremony at London’s Roundhouse on Wednesday 30th October.
The prize, established in 1992, rewards albums solely on the merit of the record itself. Initially launched as an alternative to the Brit Awards, the Mercury set out to distinguish itself as an accolade of distinction, shining a light on artists unlikely to be celebrated by the mainstream and lauding those who attempt to push music forward. Along the way it has certainly thrown up a host of surprises, both in the nominations themselves and the eventual winners.
Considering the awards’ raison d’être, it would perhaps raise a few eyebrows to hear that acts such as the Spice Girls, Take That and Robbie Williams were all nominated for the gong during the mid nineties. 1994 saw M People take home the prize, a decision unforeseen by many, in a year that was dominated by Britpop heavyweights like Oasis, Pulp and Paul Weller, while Amy Winehouse was twice considered as bookies’ favourite, only to hear another’s name read out as victors.
Seemingly, the Mercury Prize goes hand in hand with widespread debate with people as keen to discuss those omitted from the shortlist as those on it, all adding to the value bestowed on the award and the recognition it now garners within the music loving community. It is to be praised, too, for its wide scope of intake, frequently including albums from oft-forgotten genres such as jazz, folk and classical, and throwing them into the wider public’s consciousness.
So what of this year’s crop? As ever it’s a mixed bag of styles and sounds, encompassing the trends and patterns that filled radio playlists and echoed from speakers around the country in 2013. Two debut records represent the new wave of UK dance music, drawing crowds and acclaim in equal measure. Disclosure’s Settle sees the young Lawrence brothers reveal their take on 90’s 2-step garage. Their album, which features the genuine hit ‘White Noise,’ is infused with a credible low key twist, and set the charts alight upon release. Rudimental, another act whose chart-friendly dance music found favour with the Mercury panel, picked up a nod for their drum and bass inspired debut Home.
The indie world and guitar lead music is represented in the shape of Foals’ third album Holy Fire, alongside Nottingham based singer-songwriter Jake Bugg’s eponymous debut and London female quartet Savages’ Silence Yourself, as well as previous winners Arctic Monkeys. The Sheffield outfit were recipients of unanimous praise for latest release AM and were quickly installed as early favourites to add this year’s Mercury prize, adding to the one they won back in 2006 for their record-breaking debut Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not. Joining them in the early rush to the bookies was The Next Day, the surprising return release from David Bowie.
Both albums have since slid down the pecking order in favour of Settle and Sing to the Moon, the first release by hotly tipped singer Laura Mvula. Laura Marling is hoping to make it third time lucky with her nomination for Once I was an Eagle, the third in succession for the young Joni Mitchell-inspired songstress.
Outsiders and dark horses are somewhat of a theme among the Mercury nominations, with Roni Size triumphing over Radiohead’s expected victor in 1997, as well as more recent victories for Speech Debelle and Ms Dynamite instead of efforts by Florence and the Machine and The Streets respectively. With that in mind, perhaps it would be unsurprising to see electronic artist Jon Hopkins take home the winner’s cheque for his widely applauded Immunity. Hopkins, something of a favourite among the panel, was nominated in 2011 for his collaborative album with King Creosote and a victory for him may prove the last key in breaking through to a larger crowd.
Completing the 12 strong shortlist are Irish acoustic troubadours Villagers and James Blake, each gaining their second nominations. By this stage, the winner has not been selected, and there will be many a heated debate between now and selection time. There will be a glittering showcase of talents on display on the award night, all of which will eventually and definitively decide who, in fact, has released the Mercury appointed album of the year.
Which incredible talent will you be hoping to see take home the prize?