[FEATURE] MERCURY PRIZE 2015 – WHAT WE THOUGHT + THE WINNER

The music industry waited with bated breath a few weeks ago as the shortlist was announced for this year’s Mercury Music Prize. Traditionally the annual event’s purpose is to celebrate albums as a whole body of work while providing a snapshot of the year in music. This means the list is always typically diverse, and it can be a great way to give new artists some well-deserved exposure. Each year the prize is judged by a select panel of industry professionals, and this year the panel includes previous nominees Anna Calvi and Nick Mulvey as well as radio DJs MistaJam and John Kennedy.

The Wave featured the shortlist when the news first broke, but let’s take a look at each nominee in a bit more depth…

 

The winner

Benjamin Clementine – At Least For Now

One of the rather-unknown artists to make the shortlist of this year’s prize, Benjamin Clementine’s At Least For Now struck many as intimate and melancholy, whilst the comparisons to Nat King Cole and Nina Simone came pouring in. It’s a strong, delicate effort for an artist on their debut, whilst the LP saw a 455% spike in streaming after the announcement. A strong contender from an artist who once announced “Personally, I wouldn’t mind going on stage naked, totally naked.” (BB)

 

The nominees

Slaves – Are You Satisfied?

If you’re still sceptical of a punk resurgence then Slaves are the lads who can cast all those doubts aside. The Kent-based two-piece’s debut album is unique in its genre on this year’s shortlist and it one of six debut records on the list. Recorded between London and Manchester, Are You Satisfied?’s urgent percussion and surging basslines back the duo’s vivid lyrics, like on lead single The Hunter: “The feeling is mutual, you don’t like what we do because we say what we are thinking and that shocks and frightens you.” It’s brash and it’s boisterous but it’s brilliant. (SC)

 

Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool

Another debut record, this time from London quartet Wolf Alice. One of the most interesting things about this record is that no two songs sound the same. Whether this is purely a creative decision or purposely done to appeal to a wider audience, it’s crafted to near perfection. From the rambunctious You’re A Germ with it’s frenzied guitars and cutting lyrics: “you ain’t going to heaven, cause I’m dragging you down to hell” to the beautifully striking Silk: “Just looking for a protector, God never reached out in time”, the four-piece prove just why they are one of the breakthrough bands of the year with My Love Is Cool. (SC)

 

Jamie xx – In Colour

As The xx’s chief producer and button pusher Jamie xx has already released two records, but In Colour is his first venture into solo musicianship territory. Flitting from garage and dance to drum and bass – with the help of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, who feature on a few of the tracks – the debut is an atmospheric journey. The album has been touted as the perfect record to soundtrack going out preparations and pre-drinks, but high profile festival appearances at both Reading and Leeds and Bestival over summer prove that In Colour is more than capable of bringing the party itself. (SC)

 

SOAK – Before We Forgot How To Dream

Bridie Monds-Watson is SOAK. The Irish teen has a knack for creating delicate and dreamy acoustic folk songs that seem to float so effortlessly through time and space. From breakthrough single Blud to fellow release Sea Creatures, common themes of teenage rebellion and a lust to move away from the town you grew up in are explored on Before We Forgot How To Dream (“I don’t get this town, neither do you, we should run away, just me and you”), however SOAK’s sonic approach to making music is refreshing for somebody her age. (SC)

 

Gaz Coombes – Matador

The former Supergrass frontman presents his second foray into being a solo musician with this sophomore record. Matador is a self-produced effort, which will no doubt win Gaz Coombes brownie points amongst this year’s judging panel. Overall the album sounds intricately crafted and slightly theatrical, which is definitely a departure from his indie roots with Supergrass. As well as it’s Mercury nomination, Matador received rave reviews upon it’s release. A five star review in MOJO magazine said of the record: “By the end, it feels like a journey through one man’s rawest and real emotions.” (SC)

 

Aphex Twin – Syro

Richard D. James operates under the alias Aphex Twin to create ambient and atmospheric yet distorted and warped electronic music. Syro is the sixth studio album from the producer and the mainly instrumental LP is just as mind bending and wavy as his previous work. The record has already gained significant notoriety as it was awarded a GRAMMY at the beginning of the year as well as making it to number one on the Billboard Dance/Electronic Album Chart. (SC)

 

Róisín Murphy – Hairless Toys

Grand, glitchy electro-pop from Róisín Murphy, formerly the frontwoman of trip-hop duo Moloko. Her third album, and her first since 2007’s Overpowered, took inspiration from the film Paris Is Burning, which documented the 1980 lives of Latino and African-American drag queens which eventually lead to the rise of Voguing. A handful of reviews stated the LP’s experimentation from her previous outings was too much of an acquired taste, whilst the direction Murphy headed for on the LP only further proves she deserves her label as one of the UK’s greatest female dance music pioneers. (BB)

 

Florence and the Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

One-time water fountain botherer and SXSW triumph-er Florence Welch, along with her collective of merry men (and women), took 2015 for her own as she released the her third record, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, her first since 2011’s Ceremonials. An abundance of strings and horns made this the flame-haired chanteuses’ biggest LP yet, landing her a well-earned 2nd-time spot on the shortlist.  It’s a far cry from her days of shouting “Take K!” at her crowds, but How Big… only confirms Ms Welch’s status as one of the greatest and most intriguing 21st century discoveries. (BB)

 

Ghostpoet – Shedding Skin

As intense and brooding as his first LP, Shedding Skin became Ghostpoet’s second Mercury nomination, after the wonderfully titled Peanut Butter Blue & Melancholy Jam was released back in 2011. Recorded with a full live band, and Brian Eno…, the lyrics focused heavily on politics and homelessness, all together creating an album as equally thought provoking as the first. (BB)

 

Eska – Eska

The second of the three outsiders on the line up, Zimbabwe-born Eska Mtungwazi blends soul, jazz and West African influences on her self-titled LP.  Formally a session singer for Grace Jones and Zero 7, Mtungwazi too saw a rather large sales spike, peaking at just under 3,000% more streams. Her subtle vocals hint at a rare talents, one that fully deserves a place on the longlist. (BB)

 

C Duncan – Architect

A Mercury nomination and a 1,040% stream increase later, and C Duncan’s blend of pastoral and charming electronica is finally getting the recognition it deserves. Hailing from Glasgow, Duncan completed a Classical Music degree at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, he’s hushed any suggestions that his music reflects Glasgow suggesting his breezy electronics don’t match with the grittiness of the city. (BB)

 

Words by Shannon Cotton & Bill Baker

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