The Mercury Prize has crept up on us again, and the 12 best British albums of the last year have been shortlisted, and put to a panel of musical experts to determine which one is deemed the best. For the winner? A princely cheque for starters, and an (expected) increase in both sales of their album, and their own profile to boot.
We take our own look at the best British albums of the last 12 months, and select the best 12 for our own, alternative shortlist for the gong.
Tune in to BBC Four, Friday 20 November, at 9.30pm for live coverage of the real thing.
Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool (did make shortlist)
NME’s Mark Beaumont described it as “the rock equivalent of raising tiger cubs – adorable but, at any moment, it could have your larynx for lunch.” He also went as far to dub it as the “debut of the decade so far.” Ellie Rowsell’s vocal delivery is delicate and dainty one minute, before lunging into wild grunge the next. A superb debut, and a record with a ridiculous amount of strings to its bow.
Gengahr – A Dream Outside (did not make shortlist)
Jangly, floaty indie-pop is the name of the game with this debut LP, and Gengahr execute it perfectly. With A Dream Outside, melody’s swirl and irresistible hooks float in a gentle breeze, shaded under a Technicolor umbrella. With Abigail and Barney giving it large, summer is definitely way behind us for another year, but Gengahr definitely gave us a soundtrack while it lasted.
LA Priest – Inji (did not make shortlist)
Sam Dust’s first solo full-length is a work of complex art, and the album we’ve been waiting for since the demise of Late of the Pier. The zany assortment of sounds is still the mainstay, but the energy is controlled. Synths quiver, and grooves are left to slow-burn, and Dust’s voice shows a vulnerability that wouldn’t have been conceivable in the late noughties. Another brilliant debut.
Gaz Coombes – Matador (did make shortlist)
After a career spanning over 20 years, Matador is Gaz Coombes showing more precision than we’ve ever been accustomed to. Gone are the days of the giddiness of Supergrass, but Gareth is still Gaz, and his musicianship is more focused than it’s ever been. Coombes has produced a record that oozes the maturity that can only be gained from two decades in the industry.
Jme – Integrity> (did not make shortlist)
Grime has had an exceptional 2015, and Jme is one of the main reasons for that. Along with the likes of Stormzy, Bugzy Malone and big brother Skepta, there is a now a huge tsunami of beats and bars breathing new life into the scene, which is becoming more and more comfortable outside the confines of the underground. Integrity> is the jewel in a crowning year for grime.
Drenge – Undertow (did not make shortlist)
The Loveless brothers followed up their brilliant 2013 debut in April with another clattering ramshackle of ridiculously loud guitars and brutalizing drums. This time, though, there’s a sinister undercurrent, very much like a particularly malevolent undertow in itself. Undertow is a record that displays a cold, calculated level of control.
Aphex Twin – Syro (did make shortlist)
Richard D. James is one of the pioneers of British electronic music, and 13 years since his previous LP as Aphex Twin, he shows no interest at all in reinventing his sound. James has delivered a compelling electronic record with an incredible focus on detail, and with his career now touching the 30 year mark, few would argue that anyone deserves to be recognized with the prize more than him.
Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase. (did not make shortlist)
The Progfather has put together one of the most consistent and varied collections of work over the past two decades, and Hand. Cannot. Erase. is the latest in a long line of incredible work. Direction changes are seamless, and instruments are played with technical brilliance. Somewhere, there’s a bottle of Pinot Noir gazing green-eyed at Wilson, who ages better than any posh red.
Slaves – Are You Satisfied? (did make shortlist)
Slaves arm themselves with a rapid, furious bombardment of punk that is nothing short of invigorating. Laurie Vincent wields his riffs like a machete, scything and slashing its way around conformity without any sniff of charity. Isaac Holman narrates with a hostile snarl, and does a real number on a battle-hardened drumkit. Slaves execute a delightfully simple, exhilarating formula.
Marika Hackman – We Slept At Last (did not make shortlist)
With an almost alchemistic quality to her hypnotic voice, Marika Hackman dictates a scrupulous pace that doesn’t deviate, delivering austere guitars from dimmed-down abodes. We Slept At Last is a cathartic exercise for Hackman, and one she uses to exert intuitive control over her wounds. Another great British debut, in a year of great British debuts.
Jamie xx – In Colour (did make shortlist)
Jamie xx’s long-awaited solo debut is every bit as vivid and striking as its title implies it to be. With In Colour, he plays the ghosts of dance music past, present, and future, taking on a high-definition journey, and tilting his hat to the odd master or two for good measure. This is a dance record that is accessible, experimental and intensely stimulating all at once.
Ghostpoet – Shedding Skin (did make shortlist)
Obaro Ejimiwe’s 3rd LP is his 2nd to be nominated for the prize after his 2011 debut, and it marks a bold manoeuvre from the Londoner. Shedding Skin distinctly lacks the experimental, icy nature of his previous work, but in its place there is a migration into an alternative, rock(ish) territory. It’s a record that is compelling, and a hugely assured body of work.
Honourable mentions – Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, C Duncan – Architect, Laura Marling – Short Movie