The Mercury Prize is an award that goes to the best album from a performer from the UK during any given year and often it competes with the Grammys for turning on more mainstream music fans to alternative acts that they may not have considered previously. The 2014 nominees for the award—which were announced September 10—indicate that new acts were the way to go as few previously established performers earned nods this year.
It's early but Music Times is giving its rankings of the 12 albums nominated this year and our thoughts on who should bring home the most coveted prize in British music.
12) Jungle by Jungle
Jungle was one of a few Mercury Prize nominees that Music Times was able to check out this year (at Lollapalooza) and we were well pleased with the group's live performance as a band. The self-titled debut album, largely compiled by founders Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland, gets off to a good start with "The Heat" but doesn't evolve much or change from there.
11) First Mind by Nick Mulvey
The Mercury Prize nominees put a special emphasis on the trends of the day, namely working electronic elements into alternative music. The stripped-down approach of folk rocker Nick Mulvey on First Mind makes this album stand out from the rest of the pack but it also lacks the grandness we tend to expect from any "album of the year" list.
10) Total Strife Forever by East India Youth
William Doyle dropped his more traditional group The Fourfathers to pursue electronic music under the East India Youth moniker and we admit he may be onto something. The album's title reflects the dour moods within and we see a lot of potential for this project. Working some of his more organic instrumental background could take East India Youth a long way.
09) So Long, See You Tomorrow by Bombay Bicycle Club
Bombay Bicycle Club has managed to release four quality albums without sticking to any particular style, and we mean that even in an industry where most bands can only claim to switch things up from album to album. So Long, See You Tomorrow holds up the band's talent for writing hooks but the newfound interest in electronic elements make it sound, admittedly, a little more like everyone else right now.
08) Dead by Young Fathers
Young Fathers released its first full-length after two highly praised mixtapes during the previous few years. The group has a bit of everything and we emphasize that statement: Alloysious Massaquoi and Kayus Bankhole flash a range of vocal styles across the hip-hop/R&B/soul galaxies and producer 'G' Hastings features even more influences in his beats. The range of flavors is great but sometimes is a little too off the wall for its own good.
07) One Breath by Anna Calvi
We might be stretching things a bit when if we compare singer-songwriter to America's St. Vincent but we'll suggest she's on her way. The pair share an interest in experimental songwriting, although St. Vincent finds her appeal in quirk while Calvi delivers a more raw product that will certainly find an audience. The growth from her self-titled debut to One Breath suggests this is just the tip of the iceberg however.
06) Everybody Down by Kate Tempest
It's odd that a genre like hip-hop, that's derived so heavily from the spoken word wonders of performers like Gil Scott-Heron, has gotten so far from the form, placing emphasis on beats instead of words. Tempest's Everybody Down features instrumentals to be sure but the artist's background in theater and spoken word delivery ensure that her voice is the most gripping part of her performance here.
05) Everyday Robots by Damon Albarn
The Blur frontman's first genuine solo album was well-constructed and will probably appear on a certain publication's end-of-year lists. Albarn has mellowed a tad with age, compared to his last nomination as a member of Gorillaz, but he balances lively numbers with somber ones and keeps things in order. It's a shame that he's spent so much time bashing the award in the past...it probably hurts his chances of actually taking one home.
04) v2.0 by GoGo Penguin
Jazz is a genre that's needed to adjust with the times to stay relevant and nowhere is that more clear than on the Mercury Prize shortlist. GoGo Penguin is one of two jazz groups nominated and its v2.0 establishes a knack for emulating the experimental electronic stylings of performers such as Massive Attack without leaving its core trio of instruments: piano, bass and drums. Pianist Chris Illingsworth puts on a display for this record.
03) Royal Blood by Royal Blood
Royal Blood is what happens when you take the Brit's beloved Arctic Monkeys and inject a little Black Sabbath, resulting in a rock 'n' roll band that packs a little more heaviness and edge (and not just music edgy during the '60s...sorry Arctic Monkeys). Considering the frayed-edged garage rock that the group churns out plus that fact that it's a duo makes comparisons to the White Stripes inevitable.
02) In Each and Every One by Polar Bear
Polar Bear follows in the theme of adjusting jazz to modern times by essentially providing a cool collection of hip-hop beats just waiting for some DJ or emcee to swing by and make a mixtape. In Each and Every One fits perfectly in a scene that's taken to appreciating the jazz culture but you can't hide the stylistic genius of saxophonist Pete Wareham and drummer Seb Rochford behind a rap. The band's been nominated once before and would merit a win in round two.
01) LP1 by FKA Twigs
All of the raving critics, from Pitchfork to Entertainment Weekly, aren't wrong: FKA Twigs is the real deal. The blend of dream pop and trip hop that make up LP1 provides an audio image as slick as the album cover. It's impossible not to compare the performer to Dev Hynes, both in terms of personal style and wide-reaching musical influence, even if the Blood Orange frontman hadn't assisted in creating LP1. She's currently the bettors' pick for eventual winner and it's tough for us to disagree.