There is always a debate to whether or not the mercury prize is still relevant, with the owners also running the Brits and several other music awards shows. However, what makes the Mercuries so special is it’s appreciation for musical diversity and the independent labels that wouldn’t get the support from major ceremonies like the Brits. This year has a very strong list of nominations, and the artists will be hoping they can win... without experiencing the famous ‘curse of the mercury’ too. Several winners have faded over the years, but the likes of Arctic Monkeys and PJ Harvey have stayed relevant; who should be winning it this year though? Is it time for an African or Jazz band to take the limelight? We have shortlisted the 5 albums that we feel should be in contention for the award, in no particular order.
NOVELIST - NOVELIST GUY
Novelist has one of the most introspective voices in grime, a once Skepta collaborator and true original, the Lewisham MC has been hailed by the best in the industry for years now, and he is only 21 years of age. ‘Novelist Guy’ is an LP that optimises the DIY aesthetic of grime, and capsulates the fiery cuts and samples we heard in the early 2000s from the likes of Dizzee Rascal. ‘Man Better Jump’ is a tune that utilises a whirring baseline, often found in Garage, and Novelist’s repetitive, punchy flow to portray parallel’s between London and African Caribbean culture; his comparison of greetings like ‘Hi’ and ‘Whagwan’ shows the appreciation he has for his heritage. ‘Whole 9 yards’ and ‘Nov Wait Stop Wait’ capture a similar energy and makes the record the most dynamic and industrious on the list this year. It is a passionate debut release from the Square Gang member. Surprisingly, it hasn’t received masses of attention, but hopefully the Mercury nomination will see it shoot up the rankings and give the Labour party member some mainstream exposure.
KING KRULE - THE OOZ
A modern day Jazz revelation, King Krule is unquestionably one of the most talented British song writers of the decade, and his latest album is an absolute masterpiece. The man with many aliases truly exceeded expectations with this project, and justified the long wait fans had to endure since the release of his debut album ‘6 Feet Beneath The Moon’. The introspective and atmospheric analogue production sits subtly below Archy Marshall’s abrasive vocals and transports you to the unusual concrete jungle the artist tries to soundscape. The imagery composed through his diverse lyricism, creating fictional creatures like a ‘half man half shark’, seems bizarre but just emphasises this relentlessly depressing world the London lad develops over the course of the album. The tunes are so rich and densely layered that they could be from a film, ‘Dum Surfer’ oozes swagger, with sexy guitar solos and monotone vocal manipulation transporting you to King Krule’s ghastly world, and entices you in a way no other artist really could. This was one of my personal favourites from 2017, and has stuck with me this year too.
EVERYTHING IS RECORDED - EVERYTHING IS RECORDED
Everything is recorded is the project of XL Records owner Richard Russel, who has been making waves as a producer since he was part of the electronic duo ‘Kicks Like A Mule’. His sound has come a long way since then though. Russel has progressed from an entirely 90s acid house aesthetic to a more accomplished world music electronic sound, and thus has established himself as one of the most well respected producers in England. This album features last years Mercury prize winner Sampha, UK rap powerhouse Giggs and many more; they all add their unique spin to the jazzy/soulful production that makes this album so interesting. From the twangy guitar progressions in ‘Wet Looking Road’ to the Grace Jones sample on ‘Mountains of Gold’, the sparse, and therefore unpredictable, production is incredibly exciting and keeps you guessing on what is to come next when you first listen. Beyond your primary indulgence in the record, you continue to notice samples and instrumentation that you hadn’t before, Kamasi Washington’s Sax solos are a personal highlight, especially over Grace Jones’ ‘Night Clubbing’ piano Richard utilises.
JORJA SMITH - LOST & FOUND
Undeniably at the forefront of British R&B, it is easy to forget that Smith is still at the tender age of 20. For someone of this youth, you would expect them to be raw, and potentially lacking consistency. However, this really isn’t the case for the woman from Walsall. Fusing her tales of adolescence with the grainy trip hop beats that simmer below her sensual vocals, is what makes this album so dreamy and powerful. I was very pleasantly surprised to see her on the list, and she deserves the praise way more than the already established Florence and The Machine. ’Teenage Fantasy’ showcases her vulnerability, but also expresses the independence that has become the root cause of her success. If you are unsure about the list of nominees, and are looking for a future voice of British music, then you have to listen to this album. Jorja will be prevalent for some time and deserves all the praise she has received since the start of her career.
SONS OF KEMET - YOUR QUEENS IS A REPTILE
On the Mercury list, there is always an album or two from Artists I have never heard of, and this year Sons Of Kemet fitted this category for me. I have become instantly hooked by their tribal rhythms and world Jazz. It is fair to say Jazz has completely dominated this years list of nominations, and it is a genre I normally loath. However, the diversity of this record, and it’s political rage, makes it so important to the UK and the rest of the world. The scattiness of opener ‘My Queen Is Ada Eastman’ is incredibly infectious, the groovy saxophone (played by Shabaka Hutchings) is so easy on the ears and sets the tone for the rest of the LP. My personal highlight is ‘My Queen Is Albertina Sisulu’, the muted clarinet and hasty drum patterns are so frantic, and tell a story on their own. The album is angsty, and a big rejection of British politics; Hutchings’ success seems inevitable, as for the rest of the band too.
With albums from big timers like Arctic Monkeys and Noel Gallagher too, both LPs I loved but felt were too established to be on the list, it is possibly one of the strongest shortlists we have had in years. You can watch the awards show later this month, and hope for some quality drunken acceptance speeches from the winners.