Congratulations to Skepta for winning the 2016 Hyundai Mercury Music Prize!
The Mercury Prize, this year sponsored by Hyundai, has been the staple of what defines the British and Irish music industry by shining a light on the acts that are shaping modern music. Renowned around the world, a spot on the shortlist can drastically move an act form being on the periphery of a glistening career to the very forefront. Not only do you get to be on an exclusive list which acknowledges your musical merit, you have the chance to multiply your income (in an industry which we all know is getting harder and harder to make a living in) through the subsequent album sales and extended tours, which arise from purely receiving a nomination. Then if you clinch the top spot you get a £25,000 cheque, as well as the acknowledgement of being the very best in British and Irish music for the year.
For the first time in its 24 years, the format of the awards has been changed. In past times a panel of musicians, music presenters, producers, journalists, festival organisers and other figures in the music industry put together a list of six albums that have been put forward by labels, which are then judged by the respective panel on the day of the awards. This year the panel have put forward twelve albums that will be whittled done to six via an online vote, which will then be judged by the panel on the day of the awards. Whether this will have a profound effect on the end result is yet to be seen, as worries that the acts with the biggest fan bases taking rule in the inaugural vote are already being voiced.
As per usual, a diverse and eclectic mix of music has been nominated – electropop, art rock, baroque pop, electronic R&B, grime, soul, post punk, pop and jazz. This year’s list is one of the more commercially successful in Mercury Prize’s history with the majority of albums having taken the UK number one spot or held itself in the Top 10. Only two acts have debut albums featured and, incredibly, half of the nominations have appeared on the shortlist before.
Here is a brief look at the albums up for the this years Mercury Prize award:
WINNER: Skepta – Konnichiwa [Boy Better Know]
Skepta is undoubtedly the leading man when it comes to the grime game at the moment. Part of the legendary Boy Better Know crew, Skepta is now on his self-released fourth album which packs everything you might expect and more. The flawless twelve-track LP is sharp, fiery and hyped with Skpeta’s lyrics at the very top of his game. You may have heard him slay any festival he has been at, or maybe blaring out of a gang of young Britains’ phones as they walk down the street, but his tracks ‘Shut Down’ and ‘That’s Not Me’ have been two of the biggest tracks of recent times and can be recognized for bringing grime into the limelight of UK music.
Anohni – HOPELESSNESS [Secretly Canadian / Rough Trade]
Having somewhat controversially won the 2005 Mercury Prize with I Am A Bird Now as Antony And The Johnsons, a British-born band that reside in the United States, the debut release of Anohni is quite rightly on the shortlist. Co-produced by Hudson Mohawke and Oneothrix Point Never, HOPELESSNESS drifts through beautifully bleak electronic instrumentation and profound emotional protest. Anohni’s unmistakable vocals are as good as they have ever been, giving you a stark, intimate and astonishing view of political protest.
Bat For Lashes – The Bride [Parlophone Records / Warner Music]
After nominations in 2007 for Fur And Gold and in 2009 for Two Suns, Natasha Khan’s Bat For Lashes finds itself again on the shortlist. This, her fourth LP, is a concept album that revolves around a bride whose fiancé dies in a car cash on the way to their wedding and how she deals with the tragedy. This epic collection of songs beautifully depicts the powerful journey of love and death, not only in her concept of the bride but in the trials and tribulations of sorrow, hope and the complexities we endure in day-to-day life. The beguiling harmony throughout the album’s duration is exquisite, with blissful orchestration reigning triumphantly from start to finish.
Read More: Album Review, Live Review
David Bowie – Blackstar [ISO Records / Columbia Records / Sony Music]
As one of the many major events to happen this year, it would be easy to read into this that David Bowie’s death is the sole reason for his nomination – well no, Blackstar easily sits with the very best of his work. Seen as his final swan song to the world, Bowie exquisitely crafted this LP in the midst of his battle with liver cancer which, like his album, was kept secret. Merging characteristics of alt rock, jazz and experimental rock, the album cites a man who was grappling with his own mortality. Lush compositions and its arresting originality has made this audacious final chapter the bookies favourite. Having had two albums previously nominated, is this the time?
Read More: Album Review
Jamie Woon – Making Time [Polydor Records]
Jamie Woon has quietly been redefining R&B. With a strong focus on electronica, Jamie’s super smooth vocals, angelic beats and rumbling bass has made him one of the most revered musicians of the modern generation, being sought after by his contemporaries for collaborations and remixes. His second instalment is every bit as captivating as it is immaculate, with his delicious sound making this an album you can listen to over and over and over. After five years working on it, Making Time perhaps got a little overlooked upon its release but there is no doubt that this will be a new favourite for music fans the world over.
Kano – Made In The Manor [Parlophone Records / Warner Music]
Starting out on a popular pirate radio in 2000, Kano has long been a figure head in grime music. Having also dabbled in acting, most notably the series Top Boy, he is now on his fifth album which is undoubtedly his best. Made In The Manor takes a softer note away from the hyped up beats that you would normally associate with grime, allowing Kano’s cleaver lyricism to take centre stage. This has been a seminal year for the now veteran rapper, can he top it off with a Mercury Prize?
Laura Mvula – The Dreaming Room [RAC Records / Sony Music]
In 2013 Laura Mvula’s début album, the stunning Sing To The Moon, was nominated for a Mercury Prize – her latest and second album is far better. Bewitching from start to finish, The Dreaming Room is a glorious view into personal conflicts and Laura’s incredibly inventive musical prowess. She made the album in the garden shed of producer Troy Miller instead of the confines of a studio which has given her sophomore effort an organic airiness which works wonders with The London Symphony Orchestra, who orchestrated the album.
Read More: Album Review
Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate [Polydor Records]
Michael Kiwanuka came to prominence after he won the BBC’s Sound of 2012 poll after releasing his début Home Again, which was nominated for the Mercury Prize in that same year. Until this year, Michael had become a forgotten man, but frankly there has been no better way to reintroduce himself than with a UK number one album. Enlisting the help of Danger Mouse, who produced this, his second album, the pair have created a completely cohesive album that has become an instant classic. Michael’s penchant for a classic soul sound but done on a cinematic scale is utterly mesmerising and I wouldn’t have been surprised if this was one of the first names on the judge’s shortlist.
Read More: Album Review
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool [XL Recordings]
When you are one of the most musically talented and biggest bands ever, the hype and pressure surrounding a new album five years after its previous is extreme – yet somehow Radiohead manage to surpass expectations every time. Whereas their last endeavour was met with apprehension, A Moon Shaped Pool harks back to their In Rainbows period by being so sonically pleasing that it is almost inhuman in its precision. The sensitive and almost meditative nature to A Moon Shaped Pool means it sits well with Radiohead’s other masterpieces. This is their fifth Mercury Prize nomination out of nine albums, making them the most nominated act in the awards’ history, will they ever win it?
Read More: Album Review
Savages – Adore Life [Matador]
2016 has so far been a brilliant year for the post-punk/noise rock four-piece. They have gone from being one of the UK’s best prospects to one of our leading bands. Their second album is shrouded in intensity, urgency and angst. Great song after great song has you hooked for Adore Life’s thrilling duration. But this isn’t just another loud, energetic rock album. Savages have evolved an underlying emotional note that have put this band above the rest. It’s raw, it’s moody, it’s brilliant.
Read More: Album Review, Interview
The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It [Dirty Hit / Polydor Records]
If it was an award for the best album title, The 1975 would be the undisputed world champions. However, the Mercury Prize is all about the music and their sensational boundless pop sound is so natural, sophisticated and promiscuous that you wonder if they are in fact a reincarnation of Duran Duran or Spandau Ballet. Each track just makes you want to go down your local charity shop and kit out your wardrobe with big collared shirts that work with a mullet and some baggy, brightly striped suits that you can wear high wasted. Is it an 80s thing? Quite possible, but their brand of glittery Synthpop has a warm nostalgia feeling that could only come from the 80s.
Read More: Album Review
The Comet Is Coming – Channel The Spirits [The Leaf Label]
The wild card in the list is trio The Comet Is Coming, a comparatively unknown psych-jazz band when considering the stature of the others acts. Channelling the avant-garde jazz music of the comic professor Sun Ra half a century after his prime, the London band mould elements of psychedelic rock, world music and a variety of electronic ideas into a jazz stew that is as intriguing as it is impressive. The band is Danalogue The Conqueror, Betamax Killer, and King Shabaka – these aren’t just some spaced out musical cosmonauts, they are in fact Dan Leavers (keys), Maxwell Hallett (drums), and Shabaka Hutchings (sax) – Shabaka being one of the most revered saxophonists in the UK at this moment, and Dan and Maxwell being part of Soccer96.
Have your say on who ends up on the final Hyundai Mercury Prize 2016 shortlist of six by voting here: http://www.mercuryprize.com/voting. Voting ends: Friday 12 August.
Prize announced: BBC Four from 9pm Thursday 15th September