Friday, October 16, 2015

Thoughts on the 2015 Mercury Prize Shortlist

Today, for the first time in years, I found myself taking an interest in the Mercury Prize.

I usually ignore UK releases in favour of new stuff from America, and as such, I'm used to being completely, blissfully unfamiliar with the albums that make up the Mercury shortlist each year. However, 2015 seems to have been an inordinately good year for British music; quite a few of the contenders for my next 'Albums of the Year' list hail from these shores, and I fully expected such outstanding albums as The Race for Space and My Love is Cool to number among the nominees this morning.

And...well, I was half right. Before I go any further, here's the 2015 Mercury Prize shortlist in full:
  • Architect by C Duncan
  • Are You Satisfied? by Slaves
  • At Least for Now by Benjamin Clementine
  • Before We Forgot How to Dream by SOAK
  • ESKA by ESKA
  • Hairless Toys by Róisín Murphy
  • How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful by Florence and the Machine
  • In Colour by Jamie XX
  • Matador by Gaz Coombes
  • My Love is Cool by Wolf Alice 
  • Shedding Skin by Ghostpoet
  • Syro by Aphex Twin
As you can see, My Love is Cool has made the cut (and rightly so - my finger may be slightly west of the pulse, but Wolf Alice do feel to me like the band of 2015), as has ESKA's tremendous self-titled debut album (I did a Q&A with her back in July, don't ya know). Gaz Coombes is there too, which is ace - I haven't heard Matador, but Supergrass were always one of my favourite bands, and it's great to see Gaz getting some of the recognition he missed out on back in the day.

The rest of that list, though, is just as foreign to me as last year's. Three of the nominated albums (Architect, At Least for Now, and Before We Forgot...) come from artists I'd never even heard of before today, and the others....well, I supposed I just missed them.

Now, I'm clearly in no position to pass judgement on any of the nominated albums that I haven't heard - as far as I know, they're all stone-cold classics (or they will be in 10 years' time). However, I am a little surprised to see the following records missing from this year's shortlist:

  • Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance by Belle & Sebastian
  • The Race for Space by Public Service Broadcasting
  • True Romance by Estelle
So what gives? I can kind of understand Estelle's absence - I don't even know if True Romance was properly released here in her homeland, such was the difficulty I had purchasing it - but I find it hard to believe that all twelve of this year's Mercury nominees (especially Florence and the Machine!) produced albums of a higher quality than Girls in Peacetime... and The Race for Space.

But then, perhaps quality isn't the problem. I vaguely remember hearing that artists pay a fee even to be considered for the Mercury Prize - perhaps Public Service Broadcasting and Belle & Sebastian weren't prepared to buy their way onto the shortlist, and if that's the case, more power to 'em.

Not that I'm trying to devalue the achievements of ESKA and Wolf Alice, both of whom absolutely deserve their places on this year's list. I hope one of them wins it, because if any of the others take home the trophy, it'll just be yet another album for me to feel guilty about not having heard.

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