It’s our favourite time of year. The Mercury Prize is here again. Probably the only british award worth paying attention to. Every year a panel of various folks from the music industry choose their best album of the year. It has given us ups, downs and a few surprises. Most importantly it gives us something to listen to and talk about once a year. We have done the listening, now fellow picky bastard Sam and I will do the talking:
Matt: So it is Mercury time! Before we get into who we think deserves the prize, what do you think about the shortlist as a whole? Any albums you were surprised didn’t make the cut?
Sam: Yeah, on first glance I was pleasantly surprised this year. A bunch of albums I wanted to make the cut did and I’d heard great things about most of the rest from you and the other Picky Bastards team. Maybe I’m not as enthused by it after listening to them all, but on the whole it’s a list that feels relevant to 2019. I’d have loved to have seen the Ray Blk album on the list, but like I said I was pretty happy. What did you think Matt?
Matt: I was also pretty happy. This years playlist definitely contains the most albums that I knew I liked. That’s interesting because I haven’t even heard of Ray Blk. Something to add to the list. For me, the big loss was Nilüfer Yanya not making it. I have been preaching her virtues for a while and think she is a hugely exciting artist. I think the other one I expected to see there was The Comet is Coming. It’s a pretty good album, but maybe too high profile to get the one spot seemingly reserved on each shortlist for leftfield/jazz/classical music. Broadly though it was a very solid list. So what was your favourite then?
Sam: I think it’s no surprise that my favourite on the list is Grey Area by Little Simz. I’ve been shouting about her for years now, but this album has been the career defining one she’s been waiting for. It’s comfortably the best thing I’ve heard in 2019 so even just seeing her finally get that nomination felt great.
Matt: Yer. What an album! It is also my favourite of 2019 so far. It is such an exciting album. It really seems like someone at the top of their game. I think it will take something special to beat it out from my end of year list. Though I have invested a lot of time into listening to Little Simz, there is one album on the list which I have listened to more than maybe any album of the past 5 years. That is IDLES. I have not resonated with a band in so long. We have talked about them a lot at Picky Bastards, but I have never been able to ask you Sam if you are also on the IDLES train?
Sam: This is where you all strike me off the website and never speak to me ever again. I just can’t say I actually ‘enjoy’ listening to Joy as an Act of Resistance. I totally see why it’s an ‘important’ album and one that would deserve these sorts of accolades, but for me it’s just too shouty to be something I’d choose to listen to. It ended up as 9th in my ranking of the full list!
Matt: 9th!!! Well at least it’s not at the bottom of your list. You’ve managed to say that you didn’t like the actual music in the most diplomatic way possible. People have heard enough of me and others talking about how great IDLES are, so I won’t try and convince you of your mistake. Soooo. Who do you think will win? IDLES? Little Simz? Someone else?
Sam: I can be undiplomatic, but I’d rather leave that for the albums that sit near the bottom. I actually think that IDLES will be competing against a few too many similar sounding records. Slowthai, Fontaines DC, Black Midi and even Little Simz and The 1975 are all very ‘shouty’ aren’t they?
Matt: Well there’s a lot to shout about at the moment! I think you’ve pretty much listed out my top 5 from the shortlist right there (1975 excluded). I agree that the parallels in tone and message between the albums do weaken their chances. That coupled with the fact that a rock act won last year (Wolf Alice), I don’t think IDLES will win. If I had to pick one I reckon Dave will win. It’s a good album and seems to riding the zeitgeist a little bit after that Glastonbury performance. So if it can’t be someone shouty, who do you think will win?
Sam: We will get onto the fact you said you liked the Black Midi album in a minute…but I actually think a rock act might win again. Probably the biggest shock of the list for me, as in the album I loved after not expecting to was Foals. I have absolutely no prior knowledge of their music before now, but Part 1 Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost is fast becoming one of my favourite albums of the year. They could be the outsider choice this year.
Matt: Interesting pick. I would love that. They are a great band and I did like the Foals album a lot. In the context of their other albums though I don’t think it was anything special. In my eyes it would be a rehash of last year where an artist I really like got the Mercury for an album which wasn’t a standout. So I can sense you have some opinions locked and loaded about some of the albums you liked least. Which album would make you most angry if it won?
Sam: Black Midi is comfortably the worst thing on that shortlist. I might not be a huge fan of some of the others, but that would make me very annoyed if it won. The Fontaines record didn’t grip me either, the vocals on that were just grating in the end. I’d say Anna Calvi is the last of my bottom 3 as well, which was just a bit forgettable next to the more exciting albums elsewhere. What about you?
Matt: I thought the Black Midi album might be a bit marmite. I enjoy the wall of chaos and his stilted delivery. Definitely not universally appealing though. Broadly there’s a lot to like about this list so I had a tough time deciding what was at the bottom of my list. Apart from 1975 that is. I don’t get them. The music’s boring, his voice is annoying and the whole affair is far too shiny. Why are they a thing?
Sam: Knew I’d have to defend The 1975. I think they are probably next for me as the most likely winner. They are capturing this moment in music for so many people, even if I think this album isn’t even their best so far. I can’t imagine thinking they are boring, ABIIOR is far and away my most listened to album of the last 12 months, not just for huge pop hits like ‘TooTimeTooTimeTooTime’ and ‘It’s Not Living’, but the fact I don’t think anyone in their space as a pop band are doing music as relevant as ‘Love It If We Made It’ and ‘I Like America & America Likes Me’. Moving on from that though, was there anything ‘new’ that surprised you?
Matt: ‘TooTimeTooTimeTooTime’ is maybe one of the most annoying songs I’ve ever heard!!! Argggh!!!
Sorry for that outburst. Where were we? New stuff! Well to be honest there were only 3 albums I hadn’t heard before: 1975, SEED ensemble and Cate le Bon. Cate le Bon was definitely my pick of the 3. It was a delightful album. The whole sound is so warm and fun. I love the dissonance between the music and the more sinister messages overlayed over the top. She’s definitely an artist on my radar now. Apart from Foals, what were your unexpected albums?
Sam: I did like the Cate Le Bon record, but for me SEED Ensemble was an unexpected joy. Probably my favourite yet of the ‘one jazz album I’ll listen to all year because it’s nominated for the Mercury’. I really enjoyed the energy of that album. If they really wanted to be unexpected I’d welcome a win for them. What haven’t we talked about then?
Matt: I agree! SEED ensemble was one of the best to fit that slot. The Comet is Coming still was a better album for that slot though in my eyes and should have been on the list instead. But I should stop whining about that. I guess NAO is the the artist we should talk about now. This album for me was good not great. And that is because it was a bit mixed. A lot of the album is just fine, but there are some songs that are absolutely brilliant. ‘Drive and Disconnect’ is one of my faves on the entire list. I heard that song about 6 months ago, and I felt compelled to listen to it again and again. What did you think of her album Saturn?
Sam: I’m a really big NAO fan actually. I was so happy to see her included here as I think she was robbed of a nomination for her debut album. I see what you mean about it not quite reaching ‘great’ it doesn’t really take off as an album like her debut one did. That said, some of my favourite tracks of last year are on there, ‘If You Ever’ is another favourite which really comes alive when she performs it live. I guess that leaves us with some final predictions?
Matt: Yes! Lets sign off with our favourites, predictions, worst winners, and best discoveries. And let’s drag the other editors down with us:
Want to win
Matt: IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance
Sam: Little Simz – Grey Area
Nick: IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance
Fran: Slowthai – There’s Nothing Great About Britain
Think will win
Matt: Dave – Psychodrama
Sam: Foals – Part 1 Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost
Nick: Little Simz – Grey Area
Fran: Anna Calvi – Hunter
Would hate to see it win
Matt: The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships
Sam: Black Midi – Schlagenheim
Nick: The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships
Fran: Anna Calvi – Hunter
Favourite discovery from the list
Matt: Cate le Bon – Reward
Sam: Foals – Part 1 Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost
Nick: Black Midi – Schlagenheim
Fran: Cate le Bon – Reward