Commercial successes and complete lesser knowns are battling it out for this year’s Mercury Prize. From Damon Albarn to Royal Blood, right up to Go Go Penguin, bookies are currently working out their odds and chat’s spreading about exactly who’s capable of winning the award. Initial favourites - Kate Tempest and FKA twigs - are still high in the running, but given the unpredictably of the nominees, things have already been shaken up.
Twitter’s ablaze with complaints, champagne bottles are being popped behind closed doors - this is one of the most exciting days in the musical calendar, and for good reason: It’s stirred up the debate to topple them all.
In order of bookies preference, we’ve provided a quick guide to 2014’s nominees, which were announced earlier today (10th September) at a Covent Garden ceremony.
Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots
Damon’s first solo album was a shoe-in from the off. Blur have never picked up a Mercury Prize before, but this Richard Russell-produced first work ticks plenty of boxes. Containing a lifetime’s worth of creativity, it also features a beloved song about elephants, ‘Mr. Tembo’. And how can you say no to a song about elephants? “Though ‘Everyday Robots’ may well be exactly the album that has so long been expected, it’s that which makes it all the more effective,” said the DIY review. (Listen)
Royal Blood - Royal Blood
66,000 album says in its first week, 100,000 after a fortnight: Already there’s the odd quip that Royal Blood are too commercially successful to warrant a Mercury Prize nomination. But when did that ever stop Arctic Monkeys from storming the gong in similar circumstances with ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’. Times have changed, but the fever for both records feels excitingly similar. Commercial success doesn’t equal lack of creativity, either. This self-titled debut borrows from rock staples, but it also pushes things forward. The sheer momentum it’s taken on over the last month has been incredible. (Listen)
Bombay Bicycle Club - So Long, See You Tomorrow
It’s not an unfamiliar pattern, but Bombay Bicycle Club’s step up from beloved UK band to one of the biggest in the country has been one of 2014’s best sights. Edging towards fest headliners status, as well as booking in huge gigs at London Earls Court, we’re witnessing a band making a presumed, but perfectly executed step up. (Listen)
Kate Tempest - Everybody Down
From the off, months before the nominees were announced, street poet Kate Tempest was widely tipped as a potential winner. That hasn’t changed one jot, with ‘Everybody Down’ one of two records released on Big Dada to receive a nod. Tempest’s storytelling is constantly sharp, and it’s offset with distorted, unconventional production, making it a smart choice for 2014 winner. (Listen)
FKA twigs - LP1
If everything beyond an album’s considered - which, technically, it shouldn’t be in these circumstances - then FKA twigs would have every chance of being the eventual winner. Even in the year preceding ‘LP1’, the Young Turks signing showcased videos and a visual identity that existed to push boundaries. The album itself is groundbreaking in the sense that it challenges existing perceptions of gender and sexuality - but beyond everything, it packs together delicate electronic pop tracks that occasionally border on self-indulgent, but never lack a killer blow. (Listen)
Nick Mulvey - First Mind
Nick Mulvey is one of four names from this year’s BBC Sound of 2014 longlist to have made the Mercury Prize cut. At the time, he was arguably the least known of a pack of twenty, but he’s since gone on to play Glastonbury’s Main Stage, with debut ‘First Mind’ showcasing delicate but perfectly-formed alternative folk. Not the most exciting, mind-blowing pick of the bunch, but don’t bet against a victory - stranger things have happened. (Listen)
Jungle - Jungle
Since the release of their debut album, Jungle have been flooded with quips that they’re a) producing the same kind of song over and over again and b) a pair of rich kids who used mystery to their advantage in the early days. These accusations ignore a record that’s spread like wildfire. It’s the go-to LP for boozy house parties, and it’s become a default soundtrack for 2014 festivals. Jungle are a special band - they’ve come out of nowhere, with every step of their whirlwind journey perfectly calculated. (Listen)
East India Youth - Total Strife Forever
At the turn of the year, William Doyle’s debut wasn’t labelled as a potential album of the year, but it’s a record that keeps on giving. A patchwork of wild-eyed electronica, it’s a mostly vocal-free, largely inventive first work that brings together songs recorded over a two, three year period. Doyle’s future is very bright indeed, but a Mercury win would go even further to enhance that momentum. (Listen)
Young Fathers - Dead
Winners of the Scottish Album of the Year (for an EP, no less), Young Fathers are another group that released early in 2014, before gradually converting doubters and curious onlookers. A good chunk of that’s down to their live show, which balances abrasiveness with an all-out fear factor. They shout, they pounce, they pose in their rows, and ‘Dead’ captures that live energy to a T. (Listen)
Polar Bear - In Each and Every One
Polar Bear’s fifth LP isn’t their first to pick up a Mercury nominee, but it’s been nine years since their last. ‘Held on the Tips of Fingers’ was a crossover success - pipped to the post at the time by Antony and the Johnsons - but since then the jazz fusionists have settled into a relatively cult-adored groove. ‘In Each and Every One’ feels like a long time coming, in some senses - they’re a widely appreciated group who don’t quite get the Mercury acclaim to match each time round. Still - they remain a definite outside bet. (Listen)
Anna Calvi - One Breath
Two albums, two Mercury Prize nominations, and Anna Calvi’s nod is surprising in some senses in that it pipped fellow Domino darlings Wild Beasts to the shortlist of twelve. ‘One Breath’ charted higher than 2011’s self-titled debut, but it didn’t stop Calvi from remaining an artist appreciated in quiet corners, rather than amongst the masses. It’s since fledged a collaboration with David Byrne in the ‘Strange Weather’ EP - on that same release, Anna covered fellow Mercury nominee FKA twigs’ ‘Papi Pacify’. (Listen)
GoGo Penguin - v2.0
Let’s not pretend otherwise: Very few people are fully aware of exactly who Go Go Penguin are. They’re the outsiders, the lone stranger that’s standing in the corner of a party, waiting to be approached. Yes, to some extent ‘v2.0’ ticks the token jazz act box, but it also flirts with classical arrangements and (whisper it) chillout music. Clue’s in the title, but this is the act’s second record, the follow-up to 2012 debut ‘Fanfares’. But you’ve more chance of seeing an actual bloody penguin picking up the prize. Wait, are Go Go Penguin actual penguins? Has anybody checked? (Listen)
The final winner will be announced at London Roundhouse on 29th October. Listen to a playlist of 2014’s nominees here.