Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The Mercury Prize 2013 - Our Thoughts

Earlier today the Mercury Prize shortlist was announced. Here is the list of nominations and the peak position that the particular record reached in the UK Top 20 Album Chart.

Laura Mvula– Sing To The Moon (9)
Savages – Silence Yourself(19)
Disclosure – Settle (1)
Rudimental – Home (1)
Jon Hopkins – Immunity (n/a)
Foals – Holy Fire (2)
Jake Bugg - Jake Bugg(1)
Arctic Monkeys – AM(n/a – only released this week)
Villagers – Awayland (16)
Laura Marling – Once I was An Eagle (3)
David Bowie – The Next Day (1)
James Blake– Overgrown(8)

Now on the face of it you can argue that this list is a reasonable selection of the year’s best albums. Sure, we all have different taste and there will be records that all of us would have liked to have seen in the list that didn’t make it, that is if (like us) you actually are interested in the prize itself. For the record we’re pretty disappointed that the albums by Daughter and Public Service Broadcasting were missed, we thought they would be sure fire certs.

However, there’s something that concerns us more here. Let’s take a look at those chart positions. With the exception of the Jon Hopkins album (which we think is a superb piece of work) and the Arctic Monkeys album (which has only been out a few days and will inevitably chart very high this Sunday) every single on the album has made the Top 20.

One of the things we loved about some of the Mercury’s of past is that when the list is revealed, there’s been the oddities, the curios, the token jazz album, the quite obscure folk record that we hadn’t  even of heard of. It’s what made the Mercury fascinating – pitting the underdog against the big guns and giving the underdog some valuable publicity. This year we own 8 of the 12 records on the list and have listened to all 12 before the nominations were announced. It seems that the Mercury list is becoming ever more mainstream, and this is a shame. Where are this year’s Bheki Mseleku’s, Sweet Billy Pilgrim’s, Roller Trio’s or Shusheela Raman’s? These were all previous nominees. Even Jon Hopkins profile is already relatively high having had a previous Mercury nomination with King Creosote and worked with the likes of Coldplay.

This isn’t some indie-centric music snobbery – many of the albums on the list we really like – but we would have preferred the Mercury Prize to open our eyes and ears to something new that we’ve missed. Our ongoing love affair with the band Rachel Unthank and the Winterset (now just The Unthanks) pretty much started with their Mercury nomination, but this year there’s no new love to fall for.

What are the reasons for the lack of oddities? Is it to do with the Mercury’s new TV deal? The price of entering and other associated costs if nominated which prohibit smaller independent acts entering? Or the safe tastes of the judging panel? If it’s the latter maybe the panel needs a few mavericks (music bloggers?) to stir things up a bit. If we’d been on the panel we’d have been championing Georgia Ruth’s Week Of Pines a beautiful part English / part Welsh sung folk album featuring incredible finger picking harp work and a delightful variety of styles and tunes. We're streaming the song Mapping from it below.

So for this year we’re giving the Mercury’s the thumbs down and hoping that come 2014 they regain their ability to embrace more than just chart toppers. At least this year there’s little danger of the winner being an albatross in the style of Speech Debelle, but we think that lack of danger is a shame.

Georgia Ruth - Mapping

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