Music

A run-down of the 2018 Mercury Prize shortlist

by Abigail Thomas

It’s that time of year again! That period where the most prestigious annual music award bears light on the best British Albums of the year. The Mercury Prize has payed homage to an array of artists and genres, aiding many new-starters, old timers and icons of the music industry. This year it bears a colourful cast at varying stages of their career, all attaining the “shared belief in the importance of music for navigating life’s challenges – whether personal or political, falling in or out of love, growing up or looking back, angry or ecstatic”, according to the official website.

Previous winners, Arctic Monkeys are conveniently staring us hard in the face at the top of the list, the most likely to induce controversy. The band have received a split reception following the release of Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. Grand and glimmering from the offset, the sixth studio album from the High Green four piece has been deemed as underwhelming by some. However, when given the chance, the initially foreign and daunting spacey backdrop will entice you ever so slightly.

Four Stars out of Five solidifies this, a single that grows upon each listen. Unfortunately, I just cannot escape an image of Turner swaying like a dad on a karaoke, waltzing around a sleazy pub, with an obvious affinity for Elvis; a strange (and a bit specific) aura that the album conjures. Yet the band can be be admired for steering away from their usual sound, even if their nomination is possibly a result of their previous successes, not for innovative purposes. A big, fat, safe.

Everything Everything are next on the list, nominated for their fourth album A Fever Dream; an intricate album bursting with eclectic guitars and lyricism. This release is an undeniable contender, a well deserved one too, as the prize has not yet bared recognition of the bands works. This is believed to be their best yet, major singles like Can’t Do and Run the Numbers can carry the album alone.

Florence + the Machine always have a place reserved in my heart, so much so that my car is named after the mythical front woman that is Welch. High as Hope delivers what is expected of the group; a plethora of classic, enchanting ballads fit for Stevie Nicks. However, I can only feel that the previous and more personal release; How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful was even more deserving of a nomination. But is it a possible winner? This is something to be uncertain of, despite rich, festival ready anthems like Big God and Hunger.

Lily Allen has finally made her comeback since Sheezus in 2014, a course of her career which she dwells upon as a result of an identity crisis. Its pleasing to listen to her come to her own once more, seeming comfortable in herself on No Shame. This is a demure, refined electro pop piece which contrasts with her previously bubbly, yet famously outspoken content. Boasting a feature from Giggs, this easy listener provides depth, delving into Allen’s struggles through intimate lyrics. Although this isn’t an obvious winner, it screams artistic progression.

Lost & Found, the incredible debut by Jorja Smith does not even need to be listened to in depth before infatuation strikes. Each song seems fresh, and the voice of Smith is like pure silk.. effortless. With the singles Blue Lights and Teenage Fantasy gaining particular attention as well as air play, this makes her not only a personal favourite, but also a strong contender for the prize. Jorja.. I, love, you.

Novelist Guy is the second, solid release from Novelist. Some feel that grime has had its limelight at the Mercury Prize already, making Novelist representative of the genre yet, an unlikely winner. Nevertheless, it is a decent nomination that is completely self produced and written. Stop Killing the Mandem and more are overt in their commentary on serious social issues, like police brutality and the Black Lives Matter campaign. Novelist can be commended for remaining so respectful on this release, steering clear of misogyny and even reaffirming his faith!

Next, Visions of a Life by Wolf Alice is a more refined version of their more explosive debut, My Love is Cool. Ellie Rowsell, a true queen of dynamics demonstrates her range, her spine chilling, roaring screams which are echoed in the progressive, subtle to thrashing guitars…Just as brilliant as classic Pixies tunes. Don’t Delete the Kisses makes you feel as through you’re trapped inside

Rowell’s mind, whilst Formidable Cool stands out with its intense and creeping riffs, accompanied by a howling, omniscient Rowsell. The album is a rounded example of modern guitar music; heavy, youthful whilst even inspiring nostalgia and teenage sentiment. Pull your socks up and give them their recognition panel!

Jazz band, Sons of Kemet are the most politically outspoken of the bunch, taking an anti- monarchist stance throughout Your Queen is a Reptile; each song titled after influential black women. Some say they are the ‘token’ jazz band that the prize are accustomed to shortlisting to appear as inclusive. Does this narrow their chance of winning? The album is unique and creative regardless of this theory and the most radical in their coverage of important issues like British race divisions, and the monarchies lack of care for black citizens.

Who Built the Moon? by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds a colourful contender for the prize, boasting a plethora of instantaneously joyful indie rock anthems. Despite a very positive reception, it doesn’t seem ground breaking..another safe nomination. Its retro, psychedelic inspired feel is a push in a positive direction for Gallagher, however, I cannot help but think that his smug sibling is equally as worthy of a nomination for As You Were.

It wouldn’t be a shocker to see King Krule take away the prize for his third studio album, The Ooz. His sulky combination of punk, jazz and hip hop rhythms have been winning over critics and melancholy teens since 2013. His best? Or a difficult listen? This is a decent release which isn’t a dramatic change in style, yet it solidifies King Krule’s distinctiveness in comparison to mainstream artists.

Nadine Shah’s fifth release Holiday Destination boasts essences of post-punk, indie rock, jazz and more. However, Shah seems worthy of praise solely for her discussion of musically implicit issues like the Syrian refugee crisis, mental health and a variation of political affairs. Shah even re- recorded the song Holiday Destination in aid of Syrian refugee children’s medical charity, something she should be commended for as little artists make this effort.

Everything is Recorded comes from the head of XL Recordings, Richard Russell. It boasts endless collaborations from established names like Sampha, Damon Albarn, Giggs and Peter Gabriel, all aiding this very chilled product; an example for Russell’s passion for hip hop. A lot was expected from this release, as XL Recordings has kickstarted the career of respected artists like Adele, Radiohead and more. It would make for perfect revision music, however, I am unsure of its likelihood in bagging the prize.

It’s a shame to see that George Ezra has slipped under the radar with Staying at Tamara’s. Ezra’s long awaited achievement of reaching number one in the single and album charts finally came this year! And it was certainly well deserved. Another pearler of an album that was swept under the carpet would be Combat Sports by The Vaccines. Although on the surface is may not seem overtly game-changing, its an uplifting slice of indie rock that deserves more attention and airplay. A perfect summer record!

And who could forget the panel? Made up of twelve members, there is a concoction of artists, broadcasters, producers and editors included, all deriving from varying music genres. Whilst Mistajam represents grime, Jamie Cullum might stand for jazz. Some other noticeable names include Clara Amfo, Jeff Smith (chairman), Ella Eyre and Lianne La Havas.

Every member has experience within the industry, however, I feel that the panel could have been more adventurous. In 2019, it would be lovely to see a less male dominated panel, with more current (*cough* Marcus Mumford *cough*) and possibly controversial artists, maybe even previous prize winners!

So who’s your winner? Who’s safe? Have your heard of everyone on the list? All will reveal in September but until then, give the Mercury Prize 2018 playlist a listen for a little taster.

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