On Thursday night we will learn which artist has won this year’s Mercury Prize. Their name will be the 31st to join the hallowed list of winners, joining the likes of Primal Scream, Roni Size, Dizzee Rascal, Arctic Monkeys and most recently Arlo Parks. The award, which has been running since 1992, recognizes the best album made by an artist from the UK or Ireland this year.
The prestige of the Mercury Prize remains relatively unscathed in a time when so many cultural awards are bogged down by controversy. There is a certain mystique to the event, not least because the winner is decided on the night through a discussion amongst the judging panel. The winner will come from a shortlist of twelve albums, whittled down from hundreds of entries. Whilst winning the accolade can quite literally transform an artist’s career, to even appear on the shortlist is a massive deal.
These are the twelve albums that made the shortlist, with a brief description of the projects and our favourite track from each record.
Little Simz – Sometimes I Might be Introvert
Sometimes I Might be Introvert is the blistering fourth album from Little Simz, and has already blown a hole in the side of the music industry. Off the back of it, Simz has picked up a MOBO award, a Brit award, an NME award, a Libera award and an Ivor Novello award… to add the Mercury Prize to that list would be mind-boggling. The project is a biblical collection of fifteen songs and four interludes that dive deeper inside the artist than we have seen before. Dazzling flow and epic production make this album very special.
Our favourite track: Point and Kill
Wet Leg – Wet Leg
Wet Leg made a splash on both sides of the Atlantic with their relentlessly infectious single ‘Chaise Longue’ back in June of 2021. With the release of their LP, the Isle of Wight duo has defied the initial derision that inevitably stirred amongst some critics. The record is an irresistibly deadpan commentary on the quarter-life crisis, repurposing the sounds and subjects of early 00s indie to describe the apathy of modern young womanhood.
Our favourite track: Angelica
Harry Styles – Harry’s House
Some people might wrinkle their noses at Mr Style’s inclusion on the shortlist, unable to forgive him for the One Direction days. But Styles’s third solo album Harry’s House is, objectively, not bad. An appealing concoction of happy-go-lucky pop, it lingers on the lighter experiences of love and romance, without ever risking too much. What the album lacks in edge, it makes up for in style and charm.
Our favourite track: Matilda
Yard Act – The Overload
From what anyone can understand, Yard Act is the accidental product of four thirty-something-year-old blokes wondering the streets of Leeds, bumping into each other and giving music a stab. Their acclaimed debut album The Overload came just eighteen months after their first musical output. What they set out to achieve is far from original in the world of post-punk, but it is done convincingly. Propped up by biting irony, the band cast a jaunty eye across the current economic and social landscape of the United Kingdom. Various recognisable characters inhabit the lyrics, and the point is driven home by refreshingly creative guitar arrangements.
Our favourite track: Payday
Jessie Buckley & Bernard Butler – For All Our Days That Tear the Heart
This album is the first from the collaboration of two new friends: actress and singer Jessie Buckley (who recently appeared in Wild Rose and Chernobyl) and Bernard Butler, the revered English guitarist who first found fame as part of Suede. After an initial jam session, the project blossomed into this fully-fledged, confident folk album that could easily be the work of a years-old partnership. Butler’s masterful guitar arrangements draw from various folk roots and intertwine seamlessly with Buckley’s beautiful voice. ‘Butler and Buckley’ has a nice ring – let’s hope there’s more to come.
Our favourite track: All our days that tear the heart
Self Esteem – Prioritise Pleasure
Rebecca Lucy Taylor, the woman behind Self-Esteem, has had an epic summer of massive festivals and massive applause. Prioritise Pleasure is the bookies’ favourite to win the Prize, a prediction that recognises the scale of what the album achieves. The thirteen tracks spit in the face of male condescension. Coarse defiance and dark wit scream Self-Esteem’s agenda over thunderous electro-pop. The lyrics draw heavily from Taylor’s own experiences but resonate wildly with audiences and listeners. The project carries a ferocity and dignity that rarely coincide on an album.
Our favourite track: Prioritise Pleasure
Joy Crookes – Skin
Skin is the powerful debut album from 23-year-old Joy Crookes, and is the culmination of years of hard work and numerous EPs. The tracks offer a sincere portrait of Crookes as a person and an artist, delivered through her effortlessly elegant soul-infused jazz vocals. The album has fired Crookes firmly onto the mainstream radar, where she will surely remain for some time.
Our favourite track: Feet Don’t Fail Me Now
Kojey Radical – Reason to Smile
Kojey’s debut album Reason to Smile had been a long time coming. Already a much-loved figure in the British music scene, the album cemented his reputation as a unique and formidable producer. The tracks are proudly Radical through and through; he covers the topics most important to him, refusing to conform to the typical genre expectations of hip-hop. The resultant sound is both swaggering and joyous.
Our favourite track: Payback
Sam Fender – Seventeen Going Under
Seventeen Going Under, written by 27-year-old Sam Fender, is another confident indie-rock album from the Geordie boy. The sound remains fairly conventional, but Fender’s lyrics tune into an admirable sensitivity. He revisits painful experiences and reflects upon the bleak reality of working-class youth with maturity. His appealingly simple guitar-based formula has allowed audiences to connect with his meditations.
Our favourite track: Aye
Nova Twins – Supernova
The harder side of rock, or metal, is the genre most often singled out as being snubbed by the Mercury nominations, so it’s refreshing to see the nu-metal (self-described ‘urban-punk’) duo Nova Twins on the list. Supernova, their second album, is a gnarly explosion of distortion and don’t-give-a-fuck lyrics. If you want to hear what a middle finger salute sounds like, give this a listen.
Our favourite track: Antagonist
Gwenno – Tresor
Gwenno Saunders was raised in a Cornish-speaking family and Tresor, her third album is sung almost entirely in Cornish. Across ten charming folk songs, she explores (I’m told) themes of family and motherhood through her ethereal vocals. The album demonstrates how the sound of lyrical music can chime with listeners, even when they don’t understand the words.
Our favourite track: Anima
Fergus McCreadie – Forest Floor
At just 25 years old, this is already the Scottish pianist’s third album. His debut, released back in 2018, earned McCreadie ‘Best Album’ at the 2018 Scottish Jazz Awards and the 2019 Parliamentary Jazz Awards. He has stuck with the same trio to produce Forest Floor, which is a colourful incarnation of the Scottish landscape. The album is a great example of contemporary British jazz, and it is good to see it enjoying the exposure it deserves.
Our favourite track: The Unfurrowed Field
On Thursday night, all of the nominated artists (except Harry Styles) will perform live at the awards ceremony in London. Catch the show on BBC Four or BBC Radio 6 Music!
Words by Patrick Harrington (_patrickharrington_)