The BabyStep Breakdown of the Mercury Prize Award Nominees
The Mercury Prize has acted as a unique and prestigious award to champion British and Irish music since its inception in 1992 - where Primal Scream picked up the inaugural edition of the prize. A shortlist of twelve albums is whittled down to just one winner by a carefully selected team of judges, including musicians, DJs, and curators. This year’s list, like any that have come before it, picks from all four corners of British music and shines light on the commercially successful as well as the more unsung triumphs of the past 12 months. Here is our breakdown of each record which made the cut this year.
Laura Marling - Song For Our Daughter
Perhaps more than any other artist on the list, Laura Marling is a veteran of the Mercurys. Though never actually winning the award, ‘Song For Our Daughter’ has provided her with her fourth inclusion on the shortlist. Recorded in Marling’s own home studio, the album came out three weeks into lockdown. She describes it as “a nice addition to the weird trip we’ve all been on in the past few months”.
Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia
Following her worldwide smash hit ‘Don’t Start Now’, pop sensation Dua Lipa released the disco-tinged Future Nostalgia. A record which is laced with hits, Lipa creates her own funk-pop landscape to form a series of dancefloor-ready bangers. The record pays homage to artists like Kylie Minogue and its widespread acclaim suggests this particular branch of pop might be a glimpse into the charts of the near future.
Porridge Radio - Every Bad
Brighton-based indie outfit Porridge Radio came out with ‘Every Bad’ back in March - an album centred around the mental health of the band themselves and the people around them. The demo recordings for the project began in 2017, but despite the years of work which has gone into it, they never expected it to make the shortlist. “I told my sister that if we got nominated she could shave a rat into the back of my head, that’s how certain I was” frontwoman Dana Margolin told Lauren Laverne on BBC 6 Music.
Sports Team - Deep Down Happy
Considered by many to be the next big British rock band, Sports Team have had an explosive year. After a successful run round the festival circuit last year, they gained a lot of traction and channelled this into their debut album ‘Deep Down Happy’. It shows a snapshot into modern life in the UK with a multitude of catchy hooks delivered with the charismatic vocal stylings of Alex Rice. He describes the album as sounding “scrappy, flawed and unfinished, but it’s about the passion and spirit that have gone into it”.
Kano - Hoodies All Summer
Grime heavyweight Kano finds himself on the shortlist for the second time, after his ‘Made In the Manor’ project made the cut in 2016. ‘Hoodies All Summer’ sees Kano’s trademark delivery over inventive instrumentals. He also brings along the likes of Kojo Funds, Popcaan, D Double E and Ghetts, all of which enrich this ride across various UK underground scenes.
Anna Meridith - FIBS
Scottish composer Anna Meridith’s 2019 release ‘FIBS’ is a fusion of modern classical with electronic components thrown in the mix. Blistering synth is scattered throughout crafted string sections to create a project truly in it’s own lane. She describes the album as being “based on lies, the little stories and scenarios you tell yourself which just aren’t true”.
Georgia - Seeking Thrills
Beginning her career as a drummer for previously shortlisted artist Kate Tempest, her breakthrough project ‘Seeking Thrills’ threw her into centre stage at the beginning of this year. ‘About Work The Dancefloor’ was one of a series of cult hits to come out of this record, which is a collection of calculated synthpop and electropop, with a mature finish to it. Georgia herself says that she owes a lot to dance music for its success, making references to Chicago House and techno scenes that she was raised on.
Lanterns on the Lake - Spook the Herd
Newcastle-based art rock band Lanterns on the Lake actually began writing the songs from this album when they were on a hiatus. Singer Hazel Wilde said, “I don’t think we ever said it was the absolute end but I don’t think anyone would have blamed us for throwing the towel in at that point”. The praise that ‘Spook The Herd’ has received might just be the start of a second wind for the geordie five-piece.
Moses Boyd - Dark Matter
It’s become a bit of a running joke at the Mercurys for there to be the ‘token jazz album’ included in the list almost every year - ‘Dark Matter’ however, is here solely on merit. The lines between acoustic and electronic music are blurred to create a truly unique jazz-fusion project. Moses Boyd placed a lot of importance on his collaborators for this record, describing it as “a representation and extension of my friends and my community, which made it feel really natural and easy”.
Charli XCX - how i’m feeling now
Marketed as the first true lockdown album, ‘how i’m feeling now’ was written, recorded, and produced in quarantine. Released only 8 months after her critically acclaimed album ‘Charli’, she extends her abrasive pop sound with the help of executive producer A.G. Cook. “I’m honoured to have my corner of experimental pop be recognised”, she said. A sincerely innovative album which deserves the spotlight it has been receiving.
Stormzy - Heavy Is The Head
2019 was the year Stormzy truly reached the top. A triumphant Glastonbury headline set made him a household name across the country, and the crowning moment of his big year was the release of his second studio album in December. ‘Heavy Is The Head’ sees Stormzy firing on all cylinders, doing pop-rap just as well as he does grime, and even collaborating with new-kid-on-the-block Headie One. Stormzy’s bars are as tight as ever, and the production choices on tracks like ‘Bronze’ and ‘Crown’ show his versatility is only growing.
Michael Kiwanuka - KIWANUKA
Another artist who has previous with the Mercurys, Michael Kiwanuka has been shortlisted twice before, but this might be his best chance yet. His self-titled fourth album, released at the back end of last year, displays instrumental and lyrical prowess far beyond his years. Tracks like ‘Piano Joint (This Kind Of Love)’ and ‘I’ve Been Dazed’ are just two of many jaw-dropping moments of beauty on this soulful project.
The ceremony this year isn’t likely to be what we’re used to, with government guidelines still needing to be followed. However, it has been announced that the winner will be revealed on 24th September and will include extensive radio and television coverage from the BBC.
In a year of what seems like never-ending uncertainty, we hope you can take comfort in this celebration of British and Irish music, and get stuck into any of these albums you’ve not got round to yet.