Friday, 13 September 2013

Woohoo! Wuh-who? Mercury Prize 2013 Shortlist Reaction


And so, with both expectance, anticipation - and more than likely a dash of disgruntled dissatisfaction thrown in for good measure - the shortlist for the 2013 Mercury Music Prize, has been unveiled. It was Wednesday that Eddie laid out MRD's expectant shortlist of the best of British we hoped to see lining up as this year's 12 nominees - all of which vying for that illusive trophy, £20,000 prize money, and a supposed sky-rocket of record sales in the weeks that follow. This was certainly the case for last year's winners Alt-J, who's impressive debut An Awesome Wave lifted them from out of commercial wastelands...right up into just near the outskirts of commercial wasteland. Casting sarcasm aside, unlike some other UK music award ceremonies - whose knowledge and credibility has shown to be as anything other than complimentary - the Mercury Prize prides itself, quite prowessed and vocally, on celebrating talent as opposed to sales figures; quality over quantity, variety over simply watching the usual suspects nab the hype and attention. Well, if the past couple of days have shown - a certain Kevin Shields expressing his view on the award ceremony only this morning - Mercury's rather fishy back-room dealings seem to finally be surfacing to the forefront. Just what exactly is going on to add to the industry's growing tug-of-war between the creator and the distributor? Without letting too many worms out of the can, needless to say 2013's list still offers splendour and surprise in its roster. So let's start with the splendour and go over the more riveting choices this year. In no particular order:
 

Jon Hopkins - Immunity
Original Review




A smile on the face and an [imaginary] pumping of the fist ensued as I read London-born electro-wiz Jon Hopkins' name among the shortlist. 2013's Immunity, arguably Hopkins' most adventurous, expansive but memorably-fulfilling record to date, found itself rewarded with high scores on both sides of the pond and beyond, upon release. It's no wonder then this lush, tech-house record makes its way into one of the twelve spots on the list - a testament to Hopkins' musical and production prowess that has seen him rise through the ranks of obscurities, to becoming one of Britain's most exciting electronic artists at present.

 
Savages - Silence Yourself
Original Review



We're off to a good start (even if, as you'll soon discover, our good fortune barely lasts past the first turn) aren't we, as Eddie's first guess proves thoughtful and correct. And who can say this is a surprise, even for our standards. The girls based in London stormed onto the scene with an album that remains both refreshing, invigorating, powerful and above all, exciting to listen to. If it's not the carefully measured intoxication of lyrics, the band's punk-lenient guitars and percussion makes for a sound that manages to invoke nostalgia, but is devoid of any after-effect of nausea or boredom some punk, or even post-punk outfits, unfortunately create. A delightful and satisfactory nod to one of Britain's most boldest bands at present. 


Foals - Holy Fire
Original Review



BINGBINGBINGBING!! Sure the five-piece may be in cahoots with stadium-trekking alt-rock fans, commercial radio and nostalgia goggle-glued magazines, but Foals maintain their sense of pride and identity in a career that has already produced a fine debut, a wondrous sophomore, and here one of rock's - save 2013's - finest records of recent years. Holy Fire's marvellous craft of melodies, anthems, ballads and theme brings front-man's variety of vocal delivery an even more powerful effect in front a record brimming with sonic and textural beauty. Fellow Oxford locals Radiohead know all about succeeding on these merits and thus short-listed for such sound. But where they failed after three separate nominations, can Foals succeed where their long-standing city-dwellers couldn't?

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So what about those that weren't on our list? Well let's take a glimpse at a few of the more noticeable and talked-about releases of this year:

Arctic Monkeys - AM
Original Review



It's been an interesting seven years for pride of Sheffield, Arctic Monkeys. AM, Monkey's fifth album was a much sought improvement over 2011's disappointing Suck It And See. And for an album built on maturity, expanse from the band's once concoctive explosion of [Alex] Turner's vocals and the outfit's bold guitar compositions, it brought memories back of 2009's successful (and arguably best of the five albums) Humbug in how that found Monkeys escaping their youthful flair and immature concerns for something more refined and emotive. AM, while not as fluent or as structurally as that album, still held a great deal of strength. And with it already standing as the joint bookies' favourite, could this be award #2 following on from their debut's fantastic jettison into the British musical landscape.

 
Disclosure - Settle



There's been a bit of a classic House revival over recent years. Alongside the likes of Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs & Simian Mobile Disco, brothers Guy & Howard Lawrence have reinvigorated the classic electronic sub-genre. But for the twins from the UK, they've found themselves laid across many a page physical and digital alike of the music press. Settle - if not fully propelling - showed the timeless 4/4 rhythm and club-friendly groove of synthesizer sounds, are still in no mood to die away, let alone be put away. At MRD, the enjoyment may have slightly less flavoursome and over-zealous, and with contemporary electronic ideas also listed for this award, the question becomes: can Disclosure's array of beats, guest vocals and classic hooks stand once again as the timeless master succeeding over its fletchling pupils?


David Bowie - The Next Day
Original Review



2013 was the year of 'the comeback'. Boards of Canada may have gotten a portion of the press with their delightful return, but it was David Bowie who dominated the news. And to return with a record that, shock-horror, wasn't universally bad or lazy - though not universally flawless at the same, as some critics attempted blurting to us as fact - was even more news to the still-shocked music populous. At a time when the 60-year-old was unveiled as a collaborator to Arcade Fire's latest single, The Next Day - Bowie's 55th studio album - found itself as the nomination with the greatest of heights, and Bowie himself the oldest nominee (by one month) from any Mercury Prize short-list thus far.

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Then there's a couple of least-excited, but still-expected records that, safe-to-say, didn't get quite as warm a reaction from this end:

James Blake - Overgrown
Original Review



MMmMmmMmmmMMMmmm...OooooOoOOooOoOooooOOO...*presses note on a keyboard*...ooooooo. Next...


Jake Bugg - Jake Bugg
Original Review



There are many great singer-songwriters in music today. Countless accoustic or even experimental artists, whom perhaps aren't as prolific or even as financially backed to broaden their good ideas, exist today. In result, they create records - especially the guitar-carrying, vocally-warming types - that give support to the saying less is more. Jake Bugg fits into neither of these categories however. If anything, his attempts at genuine accoustic song-writing lacks the very thing a lot of solo guitarists usually falter on in the very first stage of musical development: creativity. But what's this, Bugg is signed to Mercury Records (no relation to the actual naming of the award) of which is a subsidary of UMG? I don't want to point any fingers...but...I sense some background minging amidst the Mercury 'panel'.

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Not that we question the BPI's heart is in the right place here, but given the split between [fully] independant labels being represented here, and the rest whom belong to (at the end of the day) one of the big monopoly corporations, I doubt the heads of both Mercury and the industry are anywhere but pointing Southward at present. Out of the 12 nominees, only 5 albums have been distributed through independant labels: Immunity [Domino], AM [also Domino], Awayland [and also Domino], Silence Yourself [Matador/Pop Noire] & Holy Fire [Transgressive]. For an award built as an alternative to the BRITs, it feels more a Mark II equivalent when taking stats such as these into account. And given the post-award results, the fall-out and cursory results that have plagued past winners such as Primal Scream, Gomez, Klaxons & M People (yeh), is the win worth it? Well, Damon Albarn in 2001 thought not when Gorillaz's debut was short-listed, resulting in his request for the album to be removed. And with My Bloody Valentine's frontman expressing his opinion on the award's rather lucrative nominee requirements, it's best to assume the Mercury Prize - no matter how much good-will present - is by no means immune from outside criticism. 2013's winner will be announced October 30th. UK residents can tune into Channel 4 to catch the action.
~Jordan

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