With the Mercury Music Prize shortlist being announced next week (we’re sending our reporters down, so look out for information and announcements live during Tuesday morning), we thought we’d pick our own 12 acts who we think SHOULD be on the list.
Unlike, say, Canada’s Polaris Prize, the Mercury Music Prize has taken some stick for its middle of the road, Radio 2 friendly approach in recent years. And, even though Elbow were deserved winners last year, it wasn’t a shortlist to inspire the record buying public.
So, without further ado, and maybe a little drum roll, here’s our top 12 British records for the past year:
Lau – Arc Light
The token folk record? Not really – Lau are one of the best live acts out there, but Arc Light finally channels that live energy onto record. Post-folk perhaps? Well, there are plenty of traditional melodies but they’re distorted through a more modern approach to song writing.
Alessi’s Ark – Notes from the Treehouse
We’ve been fans of Alessi for some time, but her debut album managed to build on her early EP’s, crafting a mysterious, almost child-like, alternative universe, full of wonder and charm.
Doves – Kingdom of Rust
I was lucky enough to hear Kingdom of Rust with the band back at the beginning of the year, and it was obvious from chatting to them that this was a piece of work that they were very proud of. Yes, it took them a while to make it, but think of it as picking the best dozen tracks from 4 years worth of recording.
Fanfarlo – Reservoir
Avoiding the usual root of promoting and, indeed, releasing an album, Fanfarlo also had plenty to prove on their debut. Luckily for them, they surpassed that. Whether it was just selling it on their website, or making beautiful packages for Rough Trade or, actually letting people download it $1, they ensured that whatever way you digested your music, you managed to have your plate full of beautifully epic and memorable tunes.
Manic Street Preachers – Journal for Plague Lovers
A funny idea behind this album: Richey’s old lyrics, plus decamping to Steve Albini’s studio. However, the outcome was perfect – a blend of their later-life pop hooks with the aggression and raw sound that stood out on their early records. The old boys still have it.
Bat For Lashes – Two Suns
Who says there’s pressure on your second album? Well, she may have sacked her entire live band around the release of this album, but the content of the record itself bore up to plenty of scrutiny. It’s easy to say the words Kate and Bush to describe her, but the fact that Scott Walker makes an appearance would suggest there’s plenty behind her highly stylised exterior.
My Latest Novel – Deaths and Entrances
Another sophomore album, but this one has been a long time in the making. Plenty of pressure on Bella Union’s Scottish darlings, but in the end they delivered. More dense and focused that their debut, each song felt like a chapter of a story – building and building to create an epic body of work that encompasses each aspect of life.
The Horrors – Primary Colours
Now this WAS an oddity. From NME-darlings to laughing stock within weeks after their debut. However, they’ve had the last laugh. Recruiting Portishead main man Geoff Barlow for production duties, they turned out an album with hooks but buried deep in an amazingly atmospheric sound that would only reveal themselves if you listened to it a) loud and b) over numerous occasions.
The Phantom Band – Checkmate Savage
I love bands that are hard to pigeon hole, and The Phantom Band are such an act. Their debut album whisks together elements of Kraut-rock, 90′s Britpop and songs about ghosts. Brilliant. The fact that they make so many tunes is a testament to great song writing and an ear for foot-tapping pop music.
Future of the Left – Travels with Myself and Another
Finally casting off the shadow of Mclusky, the third FOTL album is a barn-storming 30+ minutes of spite and aggression. It’s good to know that, in these times of rubbish identikit bands and Simon Cowell, a band can make music this in your face and without compromise.
Danananananakroyd – Hey Everyone!
Best punk-pop live band ever? Quite possibly. The fact that they managed to extract some essence of their live brilliance and place it onto record is a good start, but this has got more hooks than a Carp fishing tournament but with more Scots. If you want party music, this will soundtrack the party to end ALL parties.
The Lesiure society – The Sleeper
Yes, they maybe Radio 2 friendly, but they’ve also ended up on 6Music and Radio 1. Plus, they were nominated for an Ivor Novello. Not bad for a bunch of kids on their debut record. Ridiculously talented? Oh yes, but their quasi-folk sounds passed through all kinds of barriers with style.
Our tip for the prize this year? The Horrors. Oh yes, like a phoenix from the flames. It might feel a little too style over substance, but I think it’ll get the judges juices flowing. It could also be Doves… but as Elbow won it last year, expect less middle-aged men this year.
However, who would we REALLY like to see win it? Future of the Left. If there was EVER a time for FOTL’s inspired, politically charged songs of aggression, then 2009 is it. Plus, who wouldn’t want to see Andy Falkous on stage in front of Music Industry suits?!? Carnage.