The nominations are out, but which of the twelve nominees stands the best chance of winning?
The 24th edition of the annual Barclaycard Mercury Prize is due to be held on Wednesday 29th October at London’s Roundhouse.
Last week we brought you our analysis of who we thought would make the dozen-strong shortlist from which the judges will pick the eventual winner. We got five out of the twelve correct, not bad as many pundits have expressed surprise at the relative obscurity of this year’s list in comparison to previous awards.
Only two of the nominated albums have reached the Number 1 spot in the UK Albums Chart, and only one nominee can realistically call himself a household name. There has also been a surprising snub for Sam Smith, who has made a huge impression on the British public’s imagination, with his debut album In The Lonely Hour sitting at the top the charts four months after its release.
So, we’re providing brief overviews for all twelve nominees, along with how we rate their chances of receiving the final nod for the grand prize. A great deal depends on how the judges are feeling on the night itself – after all, the final decision has been known to have been left to a matter of minutes before the announcement. Whether they are minded to give the award to something highbrow and intellectual or to an artist who has already made an impression on the charts, some acts will be higher up in their considerations than others.
Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
The four-piece continued to go from strength to strength with their fourth album. Given their tendency to adopt new musical disguises with every release, it’s somewhat surprising to learn this is BBC’s first Mercury nomination. Tracks like the Moroccan-infused ‘Luna’ and the infectious Bollywood stomp of ‘Feel’ make So Long… their most purely pleasurable record yet.
Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots
This is the ex-Blur frontman’s fourth nomination in total: twice with his old band (1994, 1999) and once as part of the Gorillaz project (2001), although the latter nomination was withdrawn at Albarn’s request because he didn’t want the prestige of the award to affect people’s future perceptions of the project. Everyday Robots is yet another affirmation, as if we needed another one, of the man’s mercurial talent and ear for different types of music.
Anna Calvi – One Breath
Twickenham’s Anna Calvi released her second album almost a year ago, making it the oldest album on the list, but the judges were sufficiently impressed not to accidentally overlook it through the passage of time. Calvi’s classical training makes itself apparent through One Breath’s sumptuous arrangements, topped off by her breathtaking vocal range. The last artist to get nominated for both of their first two albums was James Blake, and he ended winning the entire thing last year.
Nick Mulvey – First Mind
Formerly a member of Portico Quartet, themselves nominated for The Mercury Prize back in 2008, Nick Mulvey’s solo debut First Mind is a thing of unusual beauty. The range of genres that Mulvey seeks to experiment with and add to his sound is the most impressive aspect of all. The Telegraph was sufficiently moved to award it a perfect score. We fancy that First Mind will make a late move to be at the front of the judges’ considerations on the night.
FKA Twigs – LP1
Tahliah Barnett’s debut received rave reviews upon its release a month ago, with its innovative electronic soundscapes reminding many of The xx. Its collision of alternative pop and R&B was constructed by a host of producers from different musical disciplines: Paul Epworth (indie), Dev Hynes (alt-folk), Clams Casino and Sampha (electronica). Expect LP1 to be high up on the judges' lists.
Kate Tempest – Everybody Down
27 year old Kate Tempest’s story is one of the stranger and more compelling ones on the shortlist. Starting off as a performance artist, she recently turned to rap to put her across her message, and the result was the rather wonderful Everybody Down. Full of fictional characters from the wrong side of the tracks, it portrays a seedy and violent underbelly of London nightlife.
Young Fathers – DEAD
The Edinburgh trio wowed critics with a refreshing and innovative approach to hip-hop, balancing populist tendencies with experimentalism to make their first proper album DEAD one of the most essential listens of the year so far. The fact they produced, rapped and sang every moment themselves makes it all the more impressive, and is further proof that the British Isles are capable of producing great hip-hop.
GoGo Penguin – v2.0
There’s always one jazz nomination every year, and Manchester trio GoGoPenguin are 2014’s recipient. Consisting of pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka and drummer Rob Turner, their second record v2.0 has unified the jazz world in praise. Judging by past Mercury awards, though, jazz-based acts never win the overall prize, and nothing suggests that GoGoPenguin will be any different.
Polar Bear – In Each And Every One
Seb Rochford’s Polar Bear jazz/dance/pop/everything inbetween crossover were nominated all the way back in 2005 for their second album Held On The Tips Of Fingers. Their genre, while it’s exactly the sort of thing that tends to make Mercury nomination shortlists, doesn’t traditionally get the judges excited when it comes to decision time, but you can never discount it.
Jungle – Jungle
The London hip-hop/soul collective Jungle have been the one of the success stories of 2014, with tracks like ‘Busy Earnin’’ and ‘Time’ tearing up the airwaves and becoming the accompaniment to many festival experiences this summer. Formed of a core of Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland, scooping the grand prize would be a terrific and unexpected end to their year.
East India Youth – Total Strife Forever
Released way back in January, Total Strife Forever was the first album by William Doyle (aka East India Youth) and was one of the notable exceptions of a barren and average month for music. His ‘indie-tronica’ formula has impressed judges in the past, with Alt-J’s An Awesome Wave winning the 2012 prize. They might be tempted to go for the same kind of genre for a second time in three years, but we reckon it’s unlikely.
Royal Blood – Royal Blood
The ferociously loud twosome have had an incredible 2014, justifying the hype surrounding them for the last twelve months by breaking out of the indie ghetto and crossing over into the mainstream, with their self-titled debut album hitting Number 1 with 66,000 copies sold in its first week. The key to that success was their ability to appeal to the rock and metal kids, not just the constituency which spawned them.