As the Mercury Music Prize shortlist is due to be announced, Getintothis Album Club staffers fantasize about what they’d pick for the shortlist.
It’s that time of the year again. The 12 strong shortlist for the Hyundai Mercury Music Prize 2018 is revealed tomorrow, Thursday July 26.
The aim of the Prize – and who am I to pass comment n this – is to promote the best of UK and Irish music and the artists who make it.
It is the music equivalent to the Booker Prize for literature and the Turner Prize for art, we’re told. Only it’s not, is it. The Man Booker costs nothing to enter, apart from the expense of submitting eight copies of each book so the judges can read the thing, and there’s no fee for the Turner either.
To put an album forward for the Mercury it costs £190 plus VAT. That’s £228 in proper money.
So we’re seeing an uneven playing field already, and when we factor in that only 220 albums are entered each year anyway, we can see what a narrow scope of music the judges have to choose from and how many wonderful records aren’t getting the support or push that winning or being shortlisted for this Prize affords the lucky few.
So, with this in mind, we reflected on all the many incredible albums left out in the cold each year. Artists who can’t afford the fee, those don’t want to be part of it all, and the bulk who don’t stand a cat’s chance in hell of being selected for the shortlist anyway.
We thought of the music makers whose faces don’t fit, who don’t go to the right parties or mixers. The creative hub-less, those who fail to flash enough ankle or thigh – or maybe a little too much – don’t titter and twinkle enough on social media, haven’t winked at the right tastemakers.
So we’ve done the decent thing. Regular contributors to our monthly Album Club picked the album we’d most like to see on the Mercury shortlist if we had our way. You’ll find them below.
We adhered to the Mercury rules – kind of – that is, these are records released between Saturday, July 22 2017 and Friday, July 20 2018. We didn’t charge artists a fee though. On the downside they don’t get £25k prize money, but they do get our sincere and heartfelt thanks for making such wonderful music for us.
This week brings with it the news that we in the UK are to have a National Album Day, the inaugural Day to take place on 13 October. The ‘music industry’ will partner up with BBC Music and we have artist appearances, record shop events, LP playbacks and online listening parties to look forward to, so here’s hoping our precious picks may well be embraced yet. Cath Bore
Insecure Men – Insecure Men
Fat Possum Records
Released Feb 2018
Every awards ceremony has its sob story to sway the vote and tug at heartstrings. I have ours right here. Insecure Men released in Feb 2018 is an ode to Fat White Family’s Saul Adamczewski being kicked out of the band for drug addiction issues and after a particularly harrowing spell in rehab was left with just handful of songs to his name.
This new era of sobriety led to the making of Insecure Men with the help of friends including members of Black Lips, Sean Lennon and Childhood’s Ben Romans-Hopcraft, sounds great right?
To research the Mercury Music Prize’s website it likes to reiterate that the music is judged solely on the quality of the music on the album. Insecure Men may be rough around the edges but you really feel the struggle and insecurity of the album being recorded on tape alone in a corridor. Then having layers added to create something entirely different. This is insecurity being recorded. When we talk about quality here, it’s not necessarily about huge production in the studio or maybe even the quality of the artists.
This is a record for men being able to talk about their struggles with addiction and mental health (possibly, were going all the way with this sob story). It’s an off key keyboard that sounds like its seen better days with a slightly fragile but gruff voice that may have also once seen better and more hedonistic days. It’s cute, jangly music with a surreal dark underbelly. It’s tales of Gary Glitter, Cliff Richard, and Whitney Houston’s relationship with her daughter set to sad dreamy melancholic music with some pretty crazy unsettling lyrics.
This record is a mash up of different musical genres brought together by a keyboard, a bit of saxophone and perhaps one of those hipster 60s plastic guitars. It’s the mad 80s synth pop of Teenage Toy, its the haunting, lonely echoing sound on Ulster, imagine a Casio keyboard preset with Hawaiian slide guitar and all the reverb on Heathrow and 50s teddy boy bass lines of I Don’t Wanna Dance (with my baby) mixed with the idea of pornographic teddy bears in All Women Love Me.
This album captures a feeling, a moment in time when things were bleak, but it’s going to get better.
- Lucy McLachlan
Etherwood: In Stillness
The people behind the Mercury Prize seem to want to be able to boast that they know all about obscure music, are ready to nominate little known albums or that they are culturally literate. But often there is a touch of tokenism about some of their choices. One can almost imagine them asking if they have a jazz record or whether they have checked the folkie box this year. And it often seems that safe choices are made – remember when M People won out over Pulp, Blur and The Prodigy?
But, despite their hipsterish efforts to seem out there, whole genres of music are certain not to get a look in. Drum & bass is one such example; perhaps the Mercury judges see this as too dirty to score them any hipster points.
But if there is any justice in this world, Etherwood would walk away with this year’s prize. His In Stillness album towers head and shoulders above anything else released this year, both in terms of song writing and production.
His is a thoughtful and subtle treatment of drum & bass, with atmosphere and fierce beats but he does not forget tunes and catchy hooks. The titular opening track is a case in point, as Etherwood layers sounds on top of each other to create an epic sounding track, lush and upbeat and one that can’t help but make you smile.
Fire Lit Sky or Taken Away are simply beautiful chilled drum & bass, which is a difficult genre to pull off successfully. Frozen Grass’ guitar and vocal refrains will lodge themselves in your mind and may never truly leave.
His strength lies in his deftness of touch, where he can add strings, piano, drums, guitar, keyboards and vocals and still leave the song room to breathe and somehow make each instrument stand out and have its own room.
This is music to dance to, chill out to or listen to intently over headphones. Whatever you’re doing in live, In Stillness can be your soundtrack.
In Stillness is, quite simply, a stunning record, where Etherwood confirms his status as one of the greatest artists currently making music in the world today. The least the Mercury Prize should do is acknowledge this, regardless of hipster credentials or box ticking
Goat Girl – Goat Girl
The 19 long track list on London-based four piece Goat Girl‘s debut album is an immersive insight back into the alternative 90s, featuring multiple earworms that will fester in the back of your mind until you hear them again.
I have to admit, on first listen I wasn’t sold. There wasn’t an instant attraction; they simply seemed to be a hyped up Elastica, with a very ‘been there done’ that vibe. However, it’s worth allowing the album time to grow on you – because once it has, you’re in for 40 minutes of pure escapsim.
Listening to Goat Girl is a similar experience to admiring a cubist painting. New things are revealed with every glance, something new leaping out each time. The melancholic overtones are perfect for the dystopian world you’re thrust into that ripples with influence from Lou Reed and PJ Harvey.
Three tracks in you’re introduced with Creep, which has a folk undertone thanks to the violin which is pressed on by upbeat drum backbone. The lyrics nicely round up where the rest of the album will be taking you, via the use of a feminist message and graphic image: ‘I want to smash your head in’.
Creep melts seamlessly into Viper Fish, which might sound similar to previous tracks on the surface but is distinguished by its heavy guitar solo and consistent chug. This is where the gothic-grunge of the whole album is at its height – it’s as though they’re chewing up and spitting out the noughties pop culture with every drawl.
Other notable tracks that are worth anyone’s time include Country Sleaze, The Man, Cracker Drool and Throw Me a Bone.
The whole album is a brilliant feat for a debut, and it encapsulates everything you’d want it to, from the existential ramblings of A Swamp Dog’s Tale to the bitter truth of The Man with No Heart or Brain. When you can tell everything from the length of song to track listing order has been meticulously planned out, there’s no doubt it deserves a place on the Mercury Prize Shortlist.
- Lauren Wise
Turbowolf: The Free Life
The sheer ridiculousness of the name Turbowolf is almost a burden. It is a name so absurd that it would easy to assume that surely the music could never live up to it. But it does, and it encapsulates all that the music is – a bubbling concoction of garage, stoner and heavy psychedelic rock with a metal edge and furious punk-pace. It that doesn’t sound enticing, then I don’t know what does.
Their third album The Free Life trademarks this sound, echoing the sentiments of their first two albums and expanding upon it with a more polished production style as well as selection of tasteful guest appearances.
Death From Above’s Sebastien Grainger features on track Cheap Magic yet Turbowolf remain resolutely in center-stage. His guest vocals work delightfully well but suddenly get sliced up by a storming fuzz riff and a change of time signature. Idles’ Joe Talbot and Vodun’s Chantal Brown, too, make guest vocal appearances but never upstage or divert any of the raucous power away from the band.
Even with Royal Blood’s own Mike Kerr featuring heavily on lead single Domino, it is Andy Ghosh’s ‘Queens of the Stone Age meets early-Muse’ style riffs that filter through into the forefront of the song – a song Sir Elton John himself described as “fabulous”.
All of Ghosh’s mammoth guitar lines are harmonized by Lianna Lee Davies’ bass playing to create a buzzing wall of sound that can be heard on every single track on the album, but perhaps so impressively in synch on opener No No No. Drummer Blake Davies exudes energy with his sharp speed and hard-hititng style but still provided a more than sold foundation for Ghosh and Davies’ ‘wall of sound’ to be built upon. Vocalist Chris Georgiadis decorates the structure with wailing vibrancy – never once screeching but never subdued either, riding the colossal riffs in the most dramatic of fashions without ever falling off.
The riffs keep coming throughout the record with Capital X and Very Bad sounding particularly menacing, and it is this consistent common characteristic that forms a cohesive piece of work – an evolution from the bands brilliant but thematically confused first album.
Yet Turbowolf manage to do this without all tracks sounding the same. The strange songs structures – the sonic juxtaposition in Domino and the crunching slurred start of the title track The Free Life being prime examples, give the album a definite variety whilst retaining an authentic, unified sound.
The smaller details that fashion this succinct balance, combined with the sheer outrageous loudness of the songs, create one of 2018’s most daring and dynamic records.
- Matthew Lear
Charles Howl: My Idol Family
Oh Many Records
It was gloriously obvious that this, the second album from Charles Howl, was going to be a keeper the first day I heard it. I listened to the thing on a loop, over and over. It’s got the precise essentials that to me an album should contain.
My Idol Family is an example of exceptional songwriting; witty, cutting wordplay with extra bite, wonderful tunes, an underlying sense of melancholia grounding it, and understated strings enhancing its many beauties and charms.
And, like any fine record, there’s something different and new to reflect on after each play.
It’s still the album I reach for the most, from the past year, my default all these months on.
If I was in charge of things and ruled the world, I’d also welcome Alex Dingley’s Beat The Babble (Libertino Records) onto the shortlist; a record of fragile but passionate gorgeousness that’s only been out in the UK a few weeks but a special one to me already.
- Cath Bore
Rolo Tomassi: Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It
Holy Roar Records
A major criticism of the Mercury Prize – well, one of them, anyway – has classically been that it seems to exist in isolation from its epoch. What kind of anti-zeitgeistic troll hands M People an award during the Britpop era?
Which brings me to a second major criticism; the shortsightedness of the panellists’ selections. Sure, at the time nominating Take That or East 17 probably seemed like a bit of a contrarian laugh. But when you stack the latter’s Walthamstow next to PJ Harvey’s seismic Rid Of Me in 1993, it’s an unfunny joke. Don’t get me started on the flashes in the pan to have scurried off with an award. Ms Dynamite, Klaxons, Talvin Singh; not just nominated, but honest-to-God winners.
Finally, genre-wise, you can almost throw a blanket over the nominees. There’s usually a token avant garde, electro and/or hip hop album, then the crater is piled with landfill indie. Nothing from the heavier end of the spectrum.
My nomination then is Rolo Tomassi’s Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It. I reviewed it in Getintothis’ Album Club #24 and loved it; we don’t give out scores, but if we did, it would have been 9/10 any day of the week. Since then, like any truly great album, my admiration has only grown.
Months after its release, it feels less like an exceptional record by a great band, and more like a culmination of everything they have achieved so far. It’s in turns blissful and blistering. Some tracks coo and gently pet the back of your head, before grabbing a handful of hair and pounding your face into the floorboards.
Time Will Die seemingly floats somewhere up above us. It has set a benchmark not just for Rolo Tomassi, but for heavy British music for the next few years. This isn’t some barely-signed band lucking into a decent debut before disappearing forever. Time Will Die rearranges the landscape, both artistically and aurally, if played at a high enough volume. Such an achievement deserves a Mercury nomination at least.
An honourable mention must go to Holy Roar labelmate Conjurer’s full-length debut Mire. Those riffs would’ve walked themselves onto this list any other year. But, well, here we are.
- David Hall
Spinning Coin: Permo
I’ve chosen this record out of all the others this year, because Spinning Coin are such a promising band and they deserve to be heard more widely. They have plenty to say, are passionate about what they do, and most of all, have released a classic, debut album.
For anybody who loves classic Scottish indie post-punk as much as me, they’re a gift. All the post-punk hallmarks there, from the urgently spiky guitars, to the haunting melodies, and sometimes painfully direct lyrics.
Spinning Coin’s songs are the work of Sean Armstrong and Jack Mellin, whose talents contrast but enhance each other in a remarkable way. Armstrong’s work is often melancholic, romantic, and wistful, whilst Mellin opts for a rockier, more aggressive approach.
The result is a very record crammed with ideas, far more than one often expects from such a young band. They’re also outspoken about the times they live in too – this is a band who think about their lyrics.
Don’t miss this album if you care about guitar music.
- Andy Holland
Isaac Gracie – Isaac Gracie
The London born singer Isaac Gracie released his debut self-titled album in April of this year. His routes in music began surprisingly in choral singing, progressing up the ranks of Earling Abbey Choir up to the position of head chorister.
Following his voice breaking in his early teenage years, Gracie turned to a different style of music and picked up a guitar. Self-taught, the inspiration of musical greats such as Bob Dylan, Jeff Buckley and Nick Cave can all be recognised in his melodies.
I first saw Gracie live in the October of 2017 in a small venue in Leeds. His beautifully acoustic, yet visceral, songs of heartbreak, loss and separation were truly a delight. It is a pleasure to see that in his debut album many of the songs he played have been slightly adapted for the production of the record but still retain their original appeal.
Highlights from the album include the melancholic silhouettes Of You. Showcasing the raw brilliance of Gracie’s vocals alongside his poetic lyrics of anguish, this track is particularly special.
Other notable tracks include the opening song: terrified which insightfully discusses the anxieties associated with change and the difficult intricacies of love. Similarly, the sultry track hollow crown, too, uses the haunting and ethereal sounds of the acoustic guitar to lament on instances of failed and fractured love.
Isaac Gracie delves into dark recesses of human emotion. Beautiful, delicate and elegiac, his music leaves a welcome space for reflection and, as the final song on the record suggests: reverie. An album without a doubt deserving of a Mercury Prize nomination.
- Ellie Montgomery
Pussycat and the Dirty Johnsons: Ain’t No Pussy
In an alternate universe where no-one cares about the vapid outpourings of the musical-industrial complex or what salesmen listen to in their cars, records that emerge from total, insane commitment and channel divine madness into our ears would be celebrated, shortlisted and showered with awards.
Records like Ain’t No Pussy, a homegrown masterpiece by Basingstoke three-piece Pussycat and the Dirty Johnsons. This, their third album, is pure rawboned rock ‘n’ roll delivered with intensity and loaded with fun to dangerous levels. Their sound is deeply infused with punk, rockabilly, grunge and glam, though not constrained by any of these styles: they careen down their own path with mad joy.
PatDJs are fiends for touring, and these tracks have been honed by dozens if not hundreds of live shows – but this isn’t some muddily-thumping-away ‘live in the studio’ effort – the band’s raucous energy has been documented with clarity, Puss Johnson’s intense vocals, Big Jake’s hell-for-leather garage guitar and the controlled chaos of Filfy Antz’ drums given space to breathe. The visual impact of the live shows – where Puss stalks the stage and the crowd costumed like a psychedelically-enhanced Catwoman, complete with tail – doesn’t feature in audio-only format (obviously) but the theatricality remains in the vinyl-captured onslaught of these vivid 2-3 minute songs.
Some tracks have a venomous attack such as the memorable Sylvia, a scarily-comprehensive demolition of an antagonist in a ‘little glass office’, sender of ‘letters straight from Himmler’s stationery cupboard!’
The title track and others are energised by a searingly direct feminism; Pretty Good for a Girl goes on the offensive against sexism in the rock world, where female artists are subjected to abuse, groping and patronisation: ‘Don’t you dare call me a prig / I just want to slay this gig’.
Darker tracks like Pain! and Foreign Body explore personal territory with a kind of unflinching assertiveness, exploring an outsider vibe with no self-pity, the sound of demons being driven out. The monster album closer Midnight Motorway hints at future musical possibilities with its hypnotic mantra-like vocal and unrestrained sonic attack.
Ain’t no Pussy is a creation that is totally, honestly and simply itself – an antidote to a world of fakeness, a necessary injection of rock ‘n’ roll derangement and thing of pure, primal beauty.
- Roy Bayfield
Mogwai :Every Country’s Sun
Temporary Residence Limited / Rock Action
Following the departure of John Cummings in 2015, Mogwai went back to basics. It was probably a good time to take stock; while the group don’t do bad albums, there’s no denying that 2013’s Rave Tapes was a patchy affair, with the Glaswegians struggling to reconcile their electronic and post-rock sides. In an effort to recapture the cohesion of Happy Songs for Happy People, they disappeared into the woods of upstate New York with producer Dave Fridmann and got to work. It was while they were there, getting stuck into the whiskey and watching horror movies, that Donald Trump was elected.
If this sounds like a recipe for some seriously bad vibes on the record, then Every Country’s Sun will come as a surprise. There’s a lightness of touch and assuredness to the music. Party in the Dark and Crossing the Road Material are uplifting mid-paced rockers, while aka 47 and 1000 Foot Face, reminiscent of their work on the Before the Flood soundtrack, flex their ambient muscles.
Seven songs in and you’d have a decent Mogwai album. But it’s the final four-song run that deserves all the garlands and praise, and catapults the record into career-best territory.
Don’t Believe the Fife shimmers and glimmers before building into a shuttle launch of driving, squalling guitars; Battered at a Scramble is as close as the ‘gwai get to a freak-out, its Jim Morrison-channelling synth-stabbing sounding suspiciously like bagpipes; and Old Poisons nicks Batcat’s lunch money and gives it a Chinese burn. The title track and album closer is a suitably uplifting yet elegiac end.
It was initially thought that the name of the album could have been intended as a political statement. What could be more profound than the reminder that even in these divided times, we are still bound by gravity to the same roughly spherical rock, orbiting the same slowly dying star? In fact, it refers to an acquaintance of the band, who thought that every country in the world had its own sun. The pairing of such absurdity with such beauty exemplifies why Mogwai are still a band for our time.
- Matthew Eland
Jon Hopkins: Singularity
Released May 2018
The discussion of music’s value – and indeed the format (or death) of the album continues at pace. Getintothis Gary Aster recently argued, “music still matters, but it seems to matter less now. Popular music was one of the great, defining art forms of the late 20th century but its star has fallen.”
Has music *really* become unimportant?
It’s an intriguing debate, and there’s every chance that Gary is right, yet there’s many fighting against this seemingly unstoppable tide in which music becomes cheapened or a mere consumerist commodity.
In a broad field, perhaps where music has been devalued more than any other, dance music producer, Jon Hopkins is unequivocally always focused on producing music which stands as a truly remarkable artistic statement. His widening catalogue is barely blemished with a dud note, and on Singularity – the follow up to 2013’s quite extraordinary Immunity – he’s produced another work of near flawless beauty.
Like Immunity, his fourth studio album, plays out like one complete vision – 62 minutes of cinematic transcendence capable of shimmering minimal tranquility or mind-altering pummeling techno rushes. Singularity reflects the different psychological states Hopkins experienced while writing and recording. Or as he states, the album is a “transformative trip of defiance at the state of the contemporary world to the ultimate conclusion that a true sense of peace and belonging can only come from nature.”
From the stark glacial propulsion of the opening title track through to the redemptive relaxation of Recovery‘s finale, to dissect Singularity would be criminal, this a record which deserves your full attention. You can’t dip in and out of it. This isn’t background musik. This isn’t a record just for today. This is an album which grips you tight, releasing you when it chooses. An album which hurtles you into the distance before easing you into calm. It’s a masterclass – one of this year, and any year’s best.
- Peter Guy