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Mercury Prize 2013: Our Ten Nominations

Mercury Prize 2013: Our Ten Nominations

30 October 2013, 10:30

With the Mercury Prize 2013 being held tonight in London, we here at Best Fit take a look at our top British albums of the past year.

Whatever your opinion on the acts queuing up for their shot at a Christmas spike in album sales, a chance to soundtrack BBC idents, or simply get to strut your stuff on Celebrity Masterchef, we’re always thrilled to have a chance to celebrate the diverse brilliance that emerges from the UK music scene every year.

Of course, this year is no exception – so here follows a list of ten records, some admittedly more challenging than others, that we ourselves would have nominated for this year’s award.

The actual winner will be announced at an awards show at London’s Roundhouse tonight (30 October).

10. Nadine Shah - Love Your Dum and Mad

On the face of it, Love Your Dum And Mad is the quintessential Mercury Prize nominee. Classically influenced pianist? Check. Stormy vocals covered in the fingerprints of her Pakistani descent? Check. An engineer with Blur and Elbow credits steering the ship? Check. Track after track of poured out, jazzed-up soul, floating like globs of vibrant oil on murky monochrome keys and uncompromising found sound puddles? Check. Or, as Whitburn, Tyne & Wear artist Nadine Shah might say, ‘aye’.

Scarcely veering from a stark palette, it’s all portentous rhythm sections and moody set-pieces, Shah and producer Ben Hillier have captured every pang of regret across the LP’s eleven lovenotes to those sorely missed, and tragically absent. Father Shah’s softly thrummed, but oh so influential Urdu ghazals, are counterweighted by industrial clanks of guitar and stripped raw piano motifs on the rich, kitchen-sink dramas ‘Dreary Town’ and ‘To Be A Young Man’, her voice imminent, her vowels coagulating, bloody red with desire and despair.

Perhaps not as obscure as say, 2012 wildcards Roller Trio, but there was every chance that Dum And Mad could have curried favour with judges seeking to tip the shortlist balance even further left of centre.

Dan Carson

9. Hey Colossus - Hey Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo

Now this one never stood a hope in hell. And I’m not entirely sure I want to live in a world where a record this unhinged could get a Mercury Prize nomination anyway. After ten years of mining noise rock gold, London’s Hey Colossus delivered their finest album yet with Hey Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo, a baffling, imposing and wholly invigorating collection of monolithic riffs, extended passages of doom-laden drone, and a twinkling carpet of melody that only by magic doesn’t find itself at odds with the aggression of the rest of the sounds fiendishly at play. A snarky, unpleasant and at times deliberately ugly thing, it’s been the record I’ve revisited most across the past six months, with each trip revealing some new horror to lower one’s jaw.

Tom Hannan

8. Hookworms – Pearl Mystic

Psych – by now totally consumed into the regular discourse of 2013’s music fan. Although a far cry from a bad thing, it threatens to lose its edge when pinned as a justifying tag to every introvert with a Space Echo, that with a historical doff of the sonic cap to the considered heyday of the genre, a less-than-innovative record made today is ratified by its influences.

Praise be to Hookworms then. Bred on worthy past touchstones, not least the drugged distortion of acts like Spacemen 3, the Leeds five-piece deliver their hypnotic whirl in such scintillating fashion that it is a record (and to an even greater extent, live show) that totally demands your attention as modern necessity, rather than just throwback. It simultaneously lulls you into its transcendental euphoria, whilst throttling you at the throat, as these poignant lyrical musings on depression and disconnection climb and squall to higher and higher pinnacles. Perhaps their names say it best – known only by their initials, the debut album from these endlessly exciting Northerners thrills as a coherent whole, far greater than the sum of its (nonetheless rapturous) individual parts. Although, having allegedly not paid to enter, their nomination this year was always going to be unlikely.

Sam Briggs

7. Outfit - Performance

For a city with such a rich musical heritage, Liverpool hasn’t enjoyed much Mercury success since Gomez grabbed the 1998 Prize from under the nose of Urban Hymns, Mezzanine and, um, Cornershop’s When I Was Born For The 7th Time. The Coral, The Zutons and Miles Kane, albeit as one half of The Last Shadow Puppets, mustered a whiff of hope in recent years but there hasn’t been a candidate quite as strong as Outfit’s debut LP for what seems like an age.

Formed in a cavernous mansion-turned-party-pad, the band wrote Performance via equally dilapidated surroundings in London before returning to their roots to finish the job. And what a job. Interweaving wonky indietronica with psychedelic, techno and house influences on standout tunes ‘Two Islands’ and ‘I Want What’s Best’, Outfit pieced together a seamless collage of fresh, fast-forwarded weird-pop anthems for a post-Alt-J culture clamouring for off-centre rhythms compounded by only the nattiest of vocals.

Dan Carson

6. Gold Panda - Half Of Where You Live

With his early singles, Gold Panda (aka Derwin “Panda”) showed his enviable knack for capturing attention with a series of rapidly evolving earworms, creating from a collection of hazy lo-fi samples a wonderfully handmade collage throbbing with a shimmering nostalgia. With his ability for a short story proven, follow up Half Of Where You Live bloomed into a masterful display of storytelling, his tantalising snippets blooming into fully-formed narratives.

Name-checking a series of global locations (Brazil, Hong Kong, and the East Riding town of Flinton), the album evokes an enriched sense of journey, growing with cinematic quality, and creating an enveloping sense of story with whispered vocal samples, and endless textures of electronic warmth. Its awareness of location, travel, and tendency to melt, and re-form itself into constantly shifting niches and shapes comes underpinned with the Peckham producer’s human touch. With the deft skill on display here, we’re in safe hands wherever it takes us. In a year of diverse electronica, this strikes the line between populist and profound perfectly.

Sam Briggs


5. Savages - Silence Yourself

Savages hold the position of being our only pick on this list echoed by the official nominations themselves. With the hyperbolic dust-storm that kicked up in the wake of their rapid ascendancy in the former half of this year having subsided a little – we can now appreciate even more the need for the visceral approach and jagged aesthetic for Savages to jolt the heart of UK guitar music into enraged action. With Silence Yourself, the stark aggression of their riveting live show translated with immense clarity, writhing with the band’s sharp, primal rage. It’s by no means a purely original template, but the utter conviction with which they deliver their raw post-punk manifestos ooze a vibrancy matched by few contemporaries.

This is an album about confronting problems with a gutful of spit and with two fingers held up defiantly, with their potent brand of modern feminism raging against subjugation, sexism and for silence in a distracted society. Although frontwoman Jenny Beth may have stolen the most headlines, the rhythm section of drummer Faye Milton and bassist Ayse Hassan carry a pulse and pace that give Savages a powerful engine room to give bulk to their bite. Few albums this year were both this hard to ignore and such passionate beacons for the value of new guitar music.

Sam Briggs

4. Forest Swords - Engravings

After stretching the seams of the underground to bursting point with the universal acclaim that surrounded his first release, and debut EP Dagger Paths, UK producer Matthew Barnes returned to his home in the North-West for take two. Plagued by tinnitus, and weighed down by pressure, this step back from the spotlight’s glare proved itself to be a valuable move. Surrounded by the Viking geography of his Wirral home, Barnes reportedly mixed the album totally immersed in the outdoor scenery around him – and the result is this harshly elemental, chillingly intense and impressive coherent record. Its rich visual quality feels borne of sharp, rocky terrain, moving through its spectral life with human tension, and disregard for any traditional generic categorisation.

Drifting in and out of discernible focus, this soundscapes blur around the tight, central core of Barnes’ skittering beats and taut bass, unafraid to shed cold light on the dark, dubby textures of many comparable producers. If the record left the judging panel as awed as it did us with its blend of desolate, skeletal structure and drowned drones, its inclusion as a representation of UK’s leftfield producers would have been an exciting prospect.

Sam Briggs

3. London Grammar - If You Wait

At their most overwhelming moments, London Grammar conjure a touching quality through the “less is more” mantra, leaving their beauty bare at the head of their vulnerable vision. Heart-wrenching, emotionally-charged, tracks like “Strong” ooze the timeless quality of the best soulful music – speaking to anyone who’ll listen. If the panel weren’t persuaded, they must have missed their Best Fit session, viewable below. Simple, but effective, the aura this three-piece create around Hannah Reid’s remarkable vocal is tender, fragile, and at its best – spectacular.

Sam Briggs

2. These New Puritans - Field of Reeds

Many have made an impassioned case for each of These New Puritans’ records to receive Mercury Prize nominations, but as yet, the Domino-signed band have not received the nod from the ever-mysterious judging panel. In all honesty, I was never part of that lobbying group, all of their previous albums to me seeming too calculated to carry any real emotion, too spiky to admit a way in. That all changed with Field Of Reeds, which has forced me to print off every snarky word I ever wrote about them and serve it for dinner. This is a truly remarkable record, one as warm as it is unnerving (sometimes it sounds like all outdoors, at others, like things that should never have been left off the Das Boot soundtrack), and by far and away my favourite album from a British band this year – and thus, my choice for the prize.

Tom Hannan

1. Daughter - If You Leave

Having already picked up the title of Independent Album of The Year from the AIM Awards, the beauty of Daughter’s debut album If You Leave has certainly not gone unnoticed. Released on 4AD back in March, its striking nature has far from wained over time – though March certainly feels like a life time ago in a year as ridiculous as this – but rather has only swelled with an increased warmth and poignancy, just as its predecessors Wild Youth and His Young Heart did before.

The work of Elena Tonra, Igor Haefeli and Remi Aguilella, the album’s lyrical core can be found underneath layers of fragile vocals, dramatic crescendos, expansive atmospherics and wailing guitars. Everything is pulled together with flawless production, which while overseen largely by Igor himself had a guiding hand from Rodaidh McDonald (The xx, Adele), Jolyon Vaughan Thomas (Maps) and Ken Thomas (Sigur Rós).

Above everything else though If You Leave‘s place on our list exists because for all its wondrous hidden complexities it revolves one simple, yet crushing experience, heartbreak – and manages to do so quite like anyone before it. It’s not cliched or overwrought. It doesn’t try to impose its own experiences on the listener, but rather possesses a universal appeal, like an emotional cold reading of sorts, as if its absorbing the experiences of its audience and projecting them back in a somehow more relatable, more personal manner.

Lauren Down

The twelve nominations for this year’s Mercury Prize will be announced tomorrow at 5.30pm by Lauren Laverne. For all the latest, follow The Line of Best Fit on Twitter: @bestfitmusic.

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