On Thursday 19 September 2019, one artist will take to the stage at the Hammersmith Apollo to accept the Mercury Prize for the best album released in the last year by a British or Irish act. Only 12 nominees make the short-list every year. This year they will be judged by the likes of Annie Mac, Clara Amfo, Stormzy (a previous nominee of the prestigious award), and singer-songwriter Jorja Smith.
Over 200 albums were entered for the 2019 Mercury Prize, which has been whittled down to just 12. A strong theme of dissatisfaction with modern Britain features greatly in a lot of this year’s nominees. This is most notable in Northampton rapper Slowthai’s album Nothing Great About Britain, and the 1975’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships.
Let’s have a closer look at this year’s big contenders for the Mercury Prize 2019:
Anna Calvi: Hunter
Anna Calvi joins an elite group of musicians, including previous winners Wolf Alice and short-list nominee Amy Winehouse, who have had their albums nominated for the Mercury Prize. Hunter is Calvi’s third album, a serious-minded, careful collection of songs with powerful themes of gender, sexuality and desire.
The mood changes frequently between each song and even within. The flitting from loud and strong operatic vocals accompanied by forceful guitar riffs to dreamscape and filmic produces a combination of rough and gentle all at the same time. With its large cavernous swells in almost every track, the album seems to embody a wilder, looser part of Anna Calvi’s personality. It is a welcome addition to her repertoire, as she pushes forth a message of embracing ourselves and who we want to be.
The 1975: A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
Two and a half years after the release of i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, comes the 1975’s third album on the modern age and sexual relationships.
Each song is poignant, containing a hidden message, yet still effervescent enough to appeal to the radio. There is a vast array on offer musically, from the jazzy track ‘Mine’ to the classic 1975 style of ‘TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME’. A favourite of mine, the incredible story told through ‘The Man Who Married A Robot’ voiced entirely by Siri. These changes are almost seamless, and The 1975 have done well to stick with their usual pop style shown in ‘Girls’ and ‘Chocolate’, integrating it with a more tender side.
The album is a confusing mixture of everything, alluding to the confusing times we live in, but is incredibly unique- a strong contender for this year’s award.
NAO’s sweet, airy vocals make her songs very easy to listen to, paired with strong basslines and funky grooves, her second album Saturn showcases her artistic development since her debut.
The album is based on the astrological phenomenon Saturn return, which occurs about every 29 years in a person’s life. This time signifies a major threshold where one leaves youth behind for adulthood, then adulthood for maturity. NAO uses this theme for her album. It is addictive to listen to with its funky afro-beats which feature on tracks ‘Drive and Disconnect’ and ‘If You Ever’, with the album overall showing how she has refined her musical style since her previous release.
Foals: Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1
The first release since founding member Walter Gervers departed from the band, Foals fans have been on the edge of their seats. Wondering how this will affect their chemistry and style, this album had much to prove. Following Foals’ 2015 release of What Went Down, a riff-heavy and grungy compilation of songs, Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost has seen them introduce more synthesiser-driven bass lines. The more angular and busy rhythms have in whole created a refreshing change for their sound.
It is certainly the most intricate of Foals’ albums to date. With twiddly guitar lines combined with a pulsing techno beat found in ‘Sunday’ and ‘In Degrees’, it is a distinct throwback to their earlier, math-rock influenced work. The themes echoed within this album burn with modern issues. These include mental health, political uncertainty and climate change. These themes are echoed in the lyrics, “there are no birds left to fly” from their single ‘Exits’.
Foals are unlikely to win the award this year, but nevertheless, they should be commended for their latest work.
Dave’s album PYSCHODRAMA has been named the favourite to win this year’s award. And no wonder. A deep insight into Dave’s background and thoughts, it tells a real story. Such a poignant story that his single ‘Black’ provoked so much controversy that listeners openly complained about the song.
But ‘Black’ is not a song with themes of homophobia and misogyny which you would expect people to get angry about. It is simply Dave’s experience as a South London Nigerian man, and his main message through the song is that not every black person’s experiences are the same.
The album’s overall sound is spare, his lyrics providing the driving force with beats that are simple and lightly accompanied by a few piano keys. A few tracks feature some snatches of spoken-word, Dave’s own psychotherapist linking the songs. The concluding song of the album, ‘Drama’. This features a telephone call from his own brother in prison, who is currently serving a life sentence for murder.
PYSCHODRAMA is by no means a party-starting compilation of chart-topping bangers. But it is real. It is so real that Dave’s portrayal of his own life and experiences resonates through each song. It is, without doubt, one of the boldest albums to be released this year.
IDLES: Joy As An Act Of Resistance
Grief, masculinity, humour, Brexit Britain… these are all themes which feature heavily on IDLES’ most recent release, an album thick with rage and emotion. But most importantly, this album showcases vulnerability.
Take the track ‘June’, frontman Joe Talbot’s dedication to his daughter who died at birth, which includes the saddest short story which has been attributed to Ernest Hemmingway: Baby Shoes. For Sale. Never Worn.
Musically, the band certainly doesn’t hold back. Each track is heavy with raging guitars and the vocals are rough. It doesn’t exactly make it suitable for easy listening. But, if you’re looking for something to help you with your own emotions, IDLES have you covered.
Other tracks include the humorous ‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm‘, a song Talbot wrote about getting into fights at small-town pubs, and that “any man with a perm must be such a psychopath that even his friends can’t tell him how stupid he looks.”
Overall, this year’s Mercury Prize has a strong batch of nominees. Cate le Bon, black midi, Fontaines D.C., Little Simz, SEED Ensemble and Slowthai make up the rest of the short-list, each with their own stories to tell.
Our Spotify playlist has our top picks from the 2019 Mercury Prize nominees: