Back again to drive us all mad and get us bastards angry over a trivial award, it’s the Mercury Prize. For the fourth year running then it’s time for us to share what albums we think should be nominated for the UK’s premier music trophy. What albums have we missed off that will be front runners in the actual list? Which albums are we rooting for that don’t stand a chance? Be sure to let us know over at @PickyBastards on Twitter.
Tom Burrows: Cate Le Bon – Pompeii
Every album that I’ve chosen for this list since this website’s inception has failed to make the final Mercury shortlist, so apologies in advance to Cate Le Bon here but I think ‘Pompeii’ would be a worthy winner.
Building on the carefully constructed soundscapes of 2019’s Reward, Le Bon uses her haunting vocals and sinister synths to recall the unsettling ambience (to me at least) of 70s horror films. It’s a record that sounds impeccable, and it’s a strong highlight of the year for me so far. This is the kind of album that often gets nominated but doesn’t win – it’d be nice if that changed this year.
Fran Slater: Self Esteem – Prioritise Pleasure
It’s hard to say whether it’s my favourite British album in the timeframe for this year’s Mercury Prize – releases from Kojey Radical, Black Country, New Road and Kae Tempest would all have something to say about that – but in terms of the album I would most want to see on this year’s shortlist, it has to be Self Esteem’s Prioritise Pleasure. No artist deserves it more.
Rebecca Taylor has been hard at work these last few years, forging a huge reputation and growing a loyal and ever increasing fan base. As someone who was watching her in libraries and tiny venues a few years back, it was an emotional experience to see the huge crowd that sang along to her Glasto set recently. But it’s not just those reasons that mean she deserves a place on the Mercury shortlist. Prioritise Pleasure is just a knockout – song after powerful song that hits you in the gut – humour, pride, defiance, honesty – the album has it all and has only grown on me since release. If it’s not on the list then the list is wrong.
Matt Paul: Kae Tempest – The Line is a Curve
Well this is the first year in a while I dont have clear out and out favourite for the Mercury. These include some of my prior picks for the prize in Nilüfer Yanya and Let’s Eat Grandma who have put together another excellent pair of albums. There’s also Yard Acts’ rowdy and fun take down of British life.
In reality though I have to go for the obvious pick: Kae Tempest. If nothing else they deserve a retconned award, for their album Let Them Eat Chaos. But those feelings aside, their album The Line is a Curve has enough to merit the award in its own right. Kae is stretching themselves musically and emotionally. They’ve been an expert at their craft for a while, but the level of openness in this album is new and a rewarding listen.
Sam Atkins: CHVRCHES – Screen Violence
I spent a while going through artists that have released amazing records this year and I found that most of them have been on the Mercury Prize shortlist before. Yes I love the Florence and the Machine record, but it would be her 4th time on the shortlist. Yes Everything Everything have a killer record, but again they’v been in the mix before. Then I realised that Scottish pop titans CHVRCHES have never made it and I knew I had to root for them this year.
Screen Violence is the best music the band have ever put out, the most consistently great record front to back with darkness brewing throughout. ‘How Not To Drown’ is a genuine pop masterpiece, my favourite song of last year it’s so full of drama and emotion. I’m baffled that they’ve never made it onto the shortlist before, but this year CHVRCHES absolutely need to be part of the conversation.
Rick Larson: Chubby and the Gang – The Mutts Nuts
I’m an American so fairly new to the Mercury Prize. I like it. Beats the hell out of the Grammys.
I’d like to see Let’s Eat Grandma on the shortlist. I’ve already written about Two Ribbons on this site. So my nomination is Chubby and the Gang, The Mutts Nuts. They should have been shortlisted for Speed Kills in 2020, but this would do as a makeup nomination. It’s a rollicking bit of tuneful West London hardcore, no pretense, good attitude. Makes me want to slip on a slick of Fuller’s in a happy mosh pit. This music always evades, but deserves, awards.
James Spearing: Jill Lorean – This Rock
I agonise over which album to choose for this article every year as if I’m on the judging panel or like my choice will have any bearing on the shortlist or eventual winner.
I’m not, and it won’t.
So which of several excellent albums do I choose? I could pick the unexpected brilliance of Nilufer Yanya’s PAINLESS which improves with every listen. I could pick Kelly Lee Owens’ bold move into experimentalism LP8. I could pick Just Mustard, Sinead O’Brien, Kathryn Joseph, Kae Tempest or Little Simz. I could…well I could go on.
Instead I will take a total gamble in the ‘never heard of them’ category with Jill Lorean and This Rock. It’s got drama, it’s got the best song Graham Coxon never wrote. It’s got shit to say about post-Brexit Britain. It’s an as yet undiscovered gem and fully deserves the exposure of a Mercury nomination.
Fran Slater – Kojey Radical – Reason To Smile
This has been an exciting time for fans of British hip-hop. Over the last 12 months we’ve seen impactful releases from Knucks, Dave, Little Simz, and more. I’d expect to see at least one of those on the list. For me, though, all of those albums suffered from a typical hip-hop album problem that often stops me from concentrating on the genre when it comes to nominations like this. They all suffered from bloat.
Reason To Smile by Kojey Radical has no such problem. It’s one of the most perfectly crafted albums I’ve heard in a long time, taking you on a journey from song to song, mixing power with fun, truth with anger. It’s raucous at times and smooth at others. It’s an exceptional debut that sounds tailor made to be a Mercury winner and it needs to be there when the shortlist is announced.
Sam Atkins – Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
We’ve written about Little Simz on this website more than probably any other artist and looking at the potential 2022 Mercury shortlist then there’s probably no one more likely to make the list this year. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is an outstanding accomplishment and has the Mercury Prize written all over it.
Across tracks like ‘Introvert’, ‘Woman’, ‘I Love You, I Hate You’, ‘Standing Ovation’, ‘Point and Kill’ and ‘How Did You Get Here’ Little Simz delivers some of her best lyrics and most engaging records of her career. It’s a full experience of a record too, to a level that no one else in UK Hip Hop is coming close. I’ll be very surprised if when the shortlist is announced we don’t see the bookies picking out Sometimes I Might Be Introvert as the big favourite for the trophy.
James Spearing – Portico Quartet – Monument
Sticking with the anticipated Mercury categories theme, here’s my pick for ‘token jazz album’. It’s been a weaker year overall for me in this area, with a lull in the recent domination by the Tomorrow’s Warriors cohort. So instead it’s the turn of previous nominees Portico Quartet with album Monument. This album seemed to fly well under the radar when it was released – so far under the radar in fact that this humble website’s review sits near the top of the search results. Portico, as always, blur the lines between electronica, jazz, contemporary classical minimalism and film soundtracks, perhaps this time leaning into the former more than ever before. And doing so made it their best album so far. Could it make on to the radar of any of the Mercury judges? I’d be surprised, but you never know.