So here we are. Congratulations! You’ve reached the fourth and final part of this feature that has seen us spend the past week talking about the Mercury Prize short listed nominees, and their respective works. These works have been selected as the best twelve albums of the past year, and we’ve tried to dig as deep as is acceptable, to see why they may have been nominated, and what are their chances of success within the competition, if that’s what you can call it. I’ve tried to not pretend I’m a massive fan of each, or that I’ve even given each album the time of day, and instead approached it, the same way we approach everything at Mojo20. We’re one of you. We love music, and we expect a little more from things such as nightlife, conversation and local affairs. But we also appreciate that we all work, and don’t have access to every musical production that ever existed, and therefore may not be able to forge an opinion on such works as Susheela Raman’s ‘Salt Rain’ or Sweet Billy Pilgrim’s ‘Twice Born Men’.
This year’s nominations have fortunately (for me) being a lot easier to swallow than some years, and the three names we’re left with on this final edition, range right the way from legendary to’ like what I’ve heard so far’ and then to ‘haven’t actually heard of these yet’. But, a new name is always a pleasure to get involved with and study their work. This was exactly the case with ‘Awayland’ by Villagers. Other than hearing the name thrown around a little bit recently, I’ve inadvertently avoided anything to do with Villagers, and therefore I made the conscious effort to pay attention, give them a listen and report back to you, my adoring public. Released in January 2013, this top 20 charting album is the second release by the Irish indie folk band, and is also the second of their LP releases to be considered for the Mercury Prize. With critical acclaim by fans and reviewers alike, as well invitations to tour by the likes of Elbow and the legendary Tracey Chapman, it would appear I’ve been missing out. Sounding in many ways like Mumford & sons, which I’m sure will be a comment that Villagers fans will resent, they skip through the album jumping from up-tempo to down-tempo, and from sentimental minimalism to anxious electronic sounds that link; almost wiping the Mumford comment away, as they sound more Alt-J than anything else. A great find in my opinion, and as the album plays throughout the house, for purely journalistic gain, I realise that a second play will be mandatory, and that time it’ll be purely for enjoyment purposes. Good album, with a lot to offer, but will it win? Hmmmm. Not so sure.
Perhaps the fact that ‘Awayland’ are obscured from the mainstream, and it is a bit artistic will, in usual Mercury fashion, assist them in receiving the award. But then of course if its art you want, and depth, and you just really hate having fun, then hold on. Because, there’s always James Blake. Of course, old Blakey is nominated this year and is hoping he’ll mince away with the accolade he didn’t receive in 2011 when his self titled album was nominated. Of course James Blake is a great talent, and as prolific as they come when you consider his remixes too. He does, in my opinion, sap the life and fun from music, and throws it in the bin and you’ll never hear his music played at Transmission, but there is no denying his talent, and especially the fact he has a bloody good chance at winning this year. His latest album ‘Overgrown’ has been nominated, and you can see why, because there’s a lot of depth, and atmosphere throughout. It’s haunting, and his voice is faultless. His muse like whaling reveals heartbreak that leaves me morbidly hoping it’s real, and authentic. Because if not, he’s just the best actor I’ve ever heard release music (after Bruce Willis, wheeeeeey). The title track is a five minute introduction that sets the tone for the rest of the eleven track, minimalist electronic warble fest. Although many of my descriptions sound derogatory, I am sincere in my praise for what he does, and in the right setting, I think he’s an incredible artist. RZA from Wu-tang clan features on ‘Take a fall for me’ and brings a stronger and more serious vocal expression to things, and is actually an enthusiastic break, as the rest of the album does hang around in that low tempo, dark, morose, moody area that it began with, and just a change in vocal style is almost as effective as if he’d just banged a dubstep cover of ‘Pencil Full Of Lead’ in the middle of the album. I respect him, but I don’t love him, but his chances are as good as any, if not better.
The next name is bigger and better at this point in his career than any award could ever validate. David Bowie returned after ten years away, with his 24th studio album, back in March of this year, and the first single, ‘Where Are We Now?, came as if out of nowhere and took everybody by surprise. With a very mature, and refined sound, and a glum but accomplished musical style, opinions were voiced, and everybody had something to say about the return of Bowie. Most were overjoyed to see him back, and before long, tunnel vision set in as we a waited ‘The Next Day’. Upon release it was a musical stew of all things Bowie. Where many had considered and appreciated that his age and career position had rendered his style a far cry from that of his heyday, and realised that ‘Let’s dance’ may have become ‘Let’s have a sit down’, and also Ziggy Stardust was a long way behind, and maybe the most mythical and legendary character he’d ever created was himself, we all assumed that ‘Where Are We Now?’ was going to be a glowing reflection of what to expect from the new record. How wrong we were as follow up singles ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ and ‘The Next Day’ are dance classics, and typical of some of Bowie’s previous work. The slightly greyer exterior of the first single was either a ruse or just an extension. A welcome one as well. David Bowie walking away with the Mercury Prize would be incredible, and a dream for fanatics, of which I know many.
Words by Stuart Green (@mojo20_music)