An alternative Mercury Music Prize Shortlist


Because there really aren’t enough of these already, are there? (BBC. DiS. The Guardian. Dead Albatross?) And not enough of them feature These New Puritans or Steve Mason. (All of them feature These New Puritans or Steve Mason.)

Anyway, this year’s Mercury Music Prize winner is announced tomorrow night, so expect Twitter to be absolutely set alight with indignation that Jake Bugg has won it. The Mercury Prize in 2013 sucks, but let’s not forget that Sting used to get nominated and M People won it one year, so it’s actually always been crap; genuinely awesome records like Let England Shake winning is a fluke. Even so, this year’s list doesn’t even include any jazz, and the jazz on the shortlist was usually my favourite bit.

So here’s my alternative to the Mercury Prize Shortlist. Let’s call it the Uranus Prize. The winner gets invited to my house for dinner.

These New Puritans – Field of Reeds
You’ve probably read about this record in all those other alternative lists. If you want to read more, check out my words here and here, if you must, but really, you’d be better off just buying and then listening to this awesome record, which seems like the kind of record the Mercury Prize is for, and yet which was ignored.

Holden – The Inheritors
I waxed lyrical about this at some length the other month, and have been playing it over and over all year; the Jon Hopkins record is about my favourite on the actual list, but this does everything that does, and then some, on a mystic, elemental, pagan level. It’s landscape-electronica or topography-techno or stargazing-synth-something, and it’s amazing.

Sons of Kemet – Burn
This is jazz; a four-piece lead by Shabaka Hutchings on clarinet or saxophone, plus a tuba player and two drummers (one of whom is Seb Roachford). It might be the most purely enjoyable album I’ve heard all year; the tuba does weird, almost acid-house things playing basslines, as if it wants to be a 303, while the two drummers out-barmy each other a lot of the time. Shabaka allegedly has an “African-Caribbean melodic sensibility” according to people who know better than me; I just know that I like the melodies as much as the rhythms.

Melt Yourself Down – Melt Yourself Down
More jazz! And Shabaka Hutchings plays on this too. I reviewed it a while ago, and its appeal hasn’t faded one iota. Probably the most exciting rock record I’ve heard all year. Only it’s not rock.

My Bloody Valentine – m b v
Switch out David Bowie’s ‘return to form’ for this, which is a much more impressive achievement as far as I’m concerned. Kevin Shields thinks MBV are so independent “it’s practically illegal”, and that they weren’t allowed to be nominated because you couldn’t get this via iTunes. He might be right; it seems insane that Jake Bugg’s retro skiffle blues Oasis tribute gets the nod when this doesn’t. 48 hours after hearing I scribbled this; I’m no more to grips with it then I was then, but I still think it’s awesome.

Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
You could very easily accuse Boards of Canada of making music that’s little more than emperor’s new clothes, such is the low-key reality of it after the rapid, slathering fanboy hype; I know people who think Geogaddi is one of the greatest creations of modern times, when to me it’s basically just slightly spooky ambient music that reminds you of what it felt like to be a bit scared as a child.

Factory Floor – Factory Floor
Actual dance music, for dancing to, and which might fill a space left feeling neglected if you wanted The Knife to make something a little more direct and interested in getting people moving, but which is still weird enough and creative enough to make you question what’s going on. I’m sure Disclosure and Rudimental are alright, and maybe I’m just a bit old now, but this is what I’m interested in.

Four Tet – Beautiful Rewind
A love-letter to the memory of listening to pirate dance radio stations in the mid-90s, quite possibly; the little faux-jungle rushes that fade in and out of some moments as if the signal strength is dipping due to inclement weather. Like I said, the Jon Hopkins record is good and pretty and enjoyable, but something like “Unicorn” is just next-level in terms of being beautiful, up there with Aphex Twin’s most beatific and beguiling moments. The rest of the record deceives,

Public Service Broadcasting – Inform – Educate – Entertain
This is the kind of strange little oddity of a record that I like to see sneak in under the radar via the Mercury – unlike the choices this year, all of which debuted in the top 10 (many of them at number 1) I believe. Samples of old public service broadcasts welded onto krauty instrumentals full of vintage-feeling riffs and patterns, everything about this record is enjoyable and commendable, even if it’s not anything to make world-changing claims about.

Primal Scream – More Light
Their new record is, amazingly, not terrible. It has a song called “2013” which has wailing 70s Bowie sax and Kevin Shields playing guitar and a Neu! groove and lasts for 10 minutes. There’s another song called “Turn Each Other Inside Out” which is amazing, intricate riffing guitars locking together, and you can barely tell Bobby Gillespie is there. Yes, it’s faintly embarrassing, and there are some so-so tracks in the middle, bug given that they’ve been rubbish for a decade this is an unexpected treat.

Hookworms – Pearl Mystic
Hands-up, I’ve only heard this once, and I don’t own it yet, but it was an awesome psychedelic soup of a record, the kind of thing that deserves some attention, the type of indie rock record that I was afraid Mumford & Sons might have made extinct. Thankfully they haven’t. And I needed more guitars in this list, because the Mercury love guitars.

Dean Blunt – The Redeemer
If you cross James Blake and Dean Blunt you don’t get James Blunt. But you would get a better record than James Blake has made, because Dean Blunt has made a better record. What the hell is it? It’s everything; he’s a post-dubstep noise guy or something, and this is some weird post-folk, piano-embellished, found-sound, pseudo-foley deconstructionism, amazingly musical and utterly baffling. I bought it in HMV. HMV!

Addendum: on the lack of women

It’s been pointed out, quite rightly, that there aren’t really any women on this list. Well, that’s not entirely true, as 1/2 of My Bloody Valentine, 1/3 of Factory Floor, 1/4 of These New Puritans, 1/4 of Melt Yourself Down, 1/n (where n = whoever’s in the studio) of Primal Scream are women, and the Dean Blunt album may or may not feature Inga Copeland (finding information on it isn’t easy).

But even so, the women on this list are supporting characters to male agents. There’s not really any excuse for this, except to say that if it wasn’t only comprised of British artists then The Knife and Julia Holter would be featuring, and if I wasn’t eschewing the actual nominees then Laura Marling might be there too.

I’m sorry about this; it does indeed show an inherent gender bias on my part. Several female artists – Ikonika, Emika, Maya Jane Coles, amongst others – have been recommended to me off the back of it, and I’ll be checking them out.

The result

A total of 22 votes were cast across various platforms, and the results are as follows…

In joint 7th place, with 1 vote each, are Public Service Broadcasting, Factory Floor, Boards of Canada, My Bloody Valentine, and Emika (who got a write-in).

In joint 5th place, with 2 votes each, are Dean Blunt and Sons of Kemet.

In joint 2nd place, with 3 votes each, are Hookworms, Melt Yourself Down, and Holden!

Which means that the winner, with 4 votes (and who would probably have got mine if I’d remembered to count my own opinion), is…

These New Puritans.

They are officially invited around for dinner if they ever pass through Exeter. Graham Sutton can come too.

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6 responses to “An alternative Mercury Music Prize Shortlist

  1. The choice is obvious… Dean Blunt: The Redeemer

  2. The Redeemer seconded

  3. Dean Blunt seconded

  4. so good I had to second my seconding. Godammit WordPress

  5. Of the eight I’ve heard, all of which I like, it has to be Hookworms for me. Of the Mercury shortlist, to my considerable surprise, it’s the Arctic Monkeys. I know, right?

  6. Surprisingly, I really quite like the Arctic Monkey’s album too.

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