Author: Elliott Boekhoff
Pick to Win: GoGo Penguin – v2.0
Acoustic Jazz Electronica. Not exactly a genre you hear about everyday, although that is the best way to describe unique band, GoGo Penguin. At its core, they are essentially comprised of piano, bass, and guitar, and sometimes they chuck in a cello here and there; yet it’s what they manage to achieve with this simple set up that is truly ground-breaking. Seemingly endless intricate piano solos over a trip-hop beat and jazzy baseline creates a unique sound that tells a story without the need for a vocalist.
v2.0 is their second album, and after listening to their critically acclaimed debut, I could immediately hear more direction and purpose in this latest LP with much more cohesion between tracks. With the Mercury Prize being all about breakthrough talent, I think GoGo Penguin are in with a shout, especially as a significant portion of the judges are musicians who will appreciate what an achievement v2.0 is. Possibly not for everyone, but a lot of people will find joy in this record. Students, I especially recommend this record for a study/revision playlist.
Author: Laura Clarke
Pick to Win: Jungle – Jungle
Since this band only formed in 2013, I think it’s safe to say that these guys are doing pretty well for themselves. I was surprised that such a level of quality had been reached so quickly. Normally, it takes a little longer for artists to smooth out the kinks. Yet the fact that the two founding members have been friends since childhood and worked together in a prior band explains this miracle somewhat.
The composition of Jungle is clever, with a delicate mix of soul, dance, and R&B. The fact that I enjoy the album as much as I do is incredible since none of these genres appeal to me generally in the day-to-day. This just goes to show that when music is really good, it doesn’t matter what category it fits into. Everyone can appreciate great music and for me, Jungle displays that fact beautifully.
The Heat and Busy Earnin’ are particularly brilliant. The former is smooth with an interesting collection of sounds and twists, while Busy Earnin’ has an introductory hook that injects life with a bit of added coolness for the five seconds it lasts. Not dissimilar to Crazy In Love, the intelligently-crafted notes are mood-lifting. Winner, winner, chicken dinner.
Author: Matt Hacke
Pick to Win: Kate Tempest – Everybody Down
The Mercury Prize isn’t all that interesting this year. I suppose FKA Twigs is relatively inventive, whilst Jungle’s revival of synth-soul is mildly diverting. As for the rest: emphatically uninspiring. If either Bombay Bicycle Club or Nick Mulvey win, we might as well give up – as this would signal that the human race now defines a ‘great’ album as one deprived of any sense of innovation or graft. It would prove that ‘music’ is a well and truly exhausted art form. Perhaps PearShaped should start concentrating on interpretive dance if certain nominees are victorious?
But music isn’t dead, is it? Perish the thought! Kate Tempest is nominated, and if she wins it should prevent sonic pioneers from Mozart to Lennon from rotating in their graves. Surely she’ll win! After all, where else do you get an incredible combination of performance poetry and hip-hop, which in an act of veritable alchemy forms to create the best album of the year – Everybody Down? Not only is Tempest intensely original, she’s also extremely good at what she does – with charged tracks like The Beigeness proving to be a rather poignant earworm.
In all seriousness, Tempest probably won’t win, which will be a real shame. The competition is open and unpredictable. But let’s hope she does, that the judges choose something truly unique rather than opting for a work that’s primary purpose is to be nice, inoffensive background music for when you need to bang out an essay.
Author: Jon Hall
Pick to Win: Nick Mulvey – First Mind
You may ask, why does he look familiar? Aside from his River Island jumper collection and current-trend facial hair, you may recognise that Nick Mulvey has been nominated for the Mercury Prize before, in 2008, as part of jazzy collective, The Portico Quartet. Perhaps more memorable has been his signature use of the hang; a large, Swiss metal instrument with a soft, echoing quality developed only in 2000 (that resembles a UFO/Viking shield), which he relinquished in 2011 to pursue a career as a solo singer-songwriter.
How does he stand out? As Mulvey says himself, his use of guitar creates rhythm, rather than solely relying on chords, to great memorable effect. This is no new method for Mulvey though, “Even though there’s a surface-level difference between my music then and now, it’s all the same to me. I do the same things on the guitar that I did on the hang. It’s about repetition, hypnotic music, the groove.” Isolating himself from the music industry and social media for many months has paid off, and despite likening to Nick Drake, Paul Simon, and John Martyn, Mulvey’s debut album, First Mind, remains distinct in its ability to sustain thematic and rhythmic momentum.
Why should he win? On announcement of the nominations, Simon Frith, head of the Mercury judges, said: “What most impressed the judges was the inventive passion with which musicians explore music and emotional possibilities, refusing to be pinned down by rules or genre”. If anyone has explored the inventive possibilities beyond the rules, it’s Mulvey, and although not the most stand-out contender on the surface, beneath lays a beguiling, pensive, and technically irregular musician worthy of Mercury recognition.
Author: Lizzie Hatfield
Pick to Win: Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
Bombay Bicycle Club launched back onto the music scene with a bang earlier this year with the release of their fourth studio album, So Long, See You Tomorrow. The indie foursome (if you can still call them indie, that is) have taken us on a musical journey since the release of their first record back in 2009. Starting out as just another regular rock’n’roll guitar-playing band (albeit a remarkably good one), Bombay have progressed remarkably, to a point where they’re now almost unrecognisable.
Their latest album, and the reason for their Mercury Award nomination, sees revolutionary use of sampling and looping alongside the classic vocals of lead singer, Steadman, on top of those drums and guitar that we’re so familiar with. Standout tracks include Overdone and Come To, featuring guest appearances from the likes of Rae Morris and Lucy Rose.
So Long, See You Tomorrow deserves to win the Mercury Award 2014 because it brilliantly captures the maturity and progression of a band that started out like any other. The production of the record is perfected, to the point where each track sounds as though it has been agonisingly thought out from start to finish. The end result is one of utter flawlessness. While the Mercury Prize typically goes to an undiscovered artist, Bombay Bicycle Club deserve recognition for completely reinventing their sound, while still managing to satisfy their ever-loyal fanbase.
Author: Jack Reid
Pick to Win: FKA Twigs – LP1
The release of LP1 marked the end of twigs, backing dancer to Kylie Minogue, Ed Sheeran, Jessie J, and more, and the start of FKA Twigs, R&B disruptor. The album is dark, but not in the ways you would expect from an R&B release. Twigs’ vocals are high and haunting, riding melodies that oscillate between sweety-pie hooks and Wiccan refrains with ease.
Two Weeks, the first single off the album, boasts a cerebrally trappy instrumental and a bittersweet vocal that will really stick to you. The gutsy production and heartbreaking vocal melodies on tracks like Video Girl really show how boldly FKA Twigs is striking out into the stagnating space of R&B, and how desperately she deserves recognition for her vision. Without getting too English student, FKA Twigs might be the perfect postmodern R&B artist; trap samples and swishy atmospheres alike are suitable fodder for the instrumentals on this album, and the brutal mashing together thereof doesn’t suffer. Even her new moniker, FKA (formerly known as) Twigs, which she was forced to adopt after another artist named Twigs complained, points to the impossibility of originality in the modern media hurricane. Anyway, she’s an artist for our times, and she deserves to be lauded for her forward-thinking sound.
Author: Becca Shepard
Pick to Win: Royal Blood – Royal Blood
Royal Blood is the eponymous debut album from Brighton-based duo, Royal Blood. The rock band comprises of drummer, Ben Thatcher and singer/bassist, Mike Kerr – although at times it’s hard to believe that such a powerfully intense sound could have been produced by only two people. In fact, Kerr creates the illusion of a third guitarist by splitting the signal from his bass, using various harmonic effects to create additional octaves and transform single notes into punchy chords. The overall effect is incredibly impressive. Loud, gutsy and generally great fun to listen to, the pair are everything you could possibly want from a rock act. I particularly loved the moodily dark and ridiculously catchy Out Of The Black.
This album has been extremely well received. As well as being nominated for the 2014 Mercury Prize, it debuted at Number 1 on the UK Albums Chart and was the fastest-selling British rock album in the UK in three years. At a time when classic rock acts in Britain are dwindling, it’s refreshing to see such an enthusiastic new take on the genre, combining blues rock with modern garage rock to create a uniquely powerful sound. Royal Blood is one of my favourite albums this year and without a doubt my choice to win the Mercury Prize. After all, is there anything better for battling coursework stress than a good old-fashioned rock-out?
Want to make up your own mind? For the full list of nominees, click here.