So I had this plan to do a blog in anticipation of the Mercury Music Prize the night before the awards… I had the macbook in one hand and the Mercury Prize cd in the other, and then the phone rang…
Lets just say that things don’t always go to plan, and with three fantastic bands (Citay, Timber Timbre & Phosphorescent) in the offing and an interview with Taylor (Timber Timbre) available I had to jump at the chance and leave the macbook on its lonesome.
So rather than an exhaustive guide to this years nominations.. i’m going to do a resume of my top 5 and who I ultimately think will win the prize:
1. Foals – Total Life Forever
Whilst their debut album Antidotes caught you with its energy, punchy melodies and Yannis’ addictive lyrics. It was best known for stand out track Cassius and the remaining tracks failed in my view to provide a cohesive product, with Foals struggling to find the tempo that suited them. It was the type of album that I found myself flicking through at times, looking for moments of inspired genius such as Red Socks Pugie but ultimately resulting in a slight disappointment of what could have been.
Total Life Forever has, in my eyes, shown a leap in maturity and demonstrates a considered, mellow and stunning approach to their craft. Foals have finally found ‘Foals‘ in this record… setting their chilled but positive approach consistently to a mid-tempo backdrop. You only have to listen to Black Gold to paint a clear picture..’The future is not what it used to be’..you’re right Yannis, the future isn’t what it used to be, it has changed..for the better. The future is FOALS.
2. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More
Ever the deft multi-instrumentalists, Mumford & Sons studied hard to perfect their folk-rock-pop sound over recent years..their setlist comprises musical accompaniment by banjo, mandolin, accordion and an array of instruments that in most circles were certainly not de-rigeur back in 2007 or so..
Fast Forward to the back end of 2009 when Mumford & Sons are relatively unknown, Sigh No More has just hit the shelves and the band is heading out on the promotional tour trail.. who could possibly envisaged how much of a hit their energetic and involving live show would be and what a difference 6 months would make to them..
Whilst Sigh No More is probably the album to have received the most commercial success with singles like Little Lion Man, The Cave, Winter Winds & Roll away your stone riding high in the charts. This commercial success often rules out success on the Mercury stage..
3. I am Kloot – Sky At Night
I am Kloot are one of those bands that quietly plug away at their trade, producing one amazing album after another… previous albums Gods & Monsters, Natural History and their self titled album being prime examples of their songwriting genius, awe inspiring melodies and general quality musicianship.
Whilst on a local level they have developed a hardcore fanbase over the 11 years that they have been together, commercial success has so far eluded them.. hindered by a lack of record label financial support amongst other things.
Latest album Sky at night is back to basics I am Kloot, simple stunning musical arrangements overlaid with Johnnys bittersweet tones. Elbows Guy Garvey and Craig Potter have worked their ‘Seldom Seen Kid‘ magic on production duties, finally delivering an album that I am Kloot deserve.. It hit me when listening to ‘Radiation’, from the simple xylophone to the extensive string sections, this is the sound that we have been waiting for, almost reminiscent of The Beatles in places.. I am Kloot have finally arrived.
4. Wild Beasts – Two Dancers
In my view, the most musically evolved album residing on the list. Tom and Haydens voices are so diverse but work together in such harmony…as instruments in their own right. Wild Beasts are a band that you either ‘get’ or you don’t, something I realised after a lengthy chat with a local musician on the matter..Raised to my attention by LA band Local Natives who couldn’t get enough of this album, I was intrigued to check it out for myself..
The thing that I adore about Wild Beasts is the great attention to detail and freedom of expression present in their music..its hard to categorise, but remains instantly recognisable as Wild Beasts and seems to have engaged a wide eclectic audience. I dislike using the word ‘pretty‘ to describe music, but Two Dancers IS pretty; from the moment Haydens soaring vocals lift off in Hooting and howling to the tempered bongo opening of This is our lot. Stunning.
5. The xx – xx
From the opening chords of Crystalised I knew I was hearing something special.. little did I know that I was listening to something that would be so seminal. xx adored on so many levels by so many.. the understated rawness, simplicity, and the intricacy of it all from a band so young is still hard to comprehend as I sit here listening to it just over a year after its release..
I could detail the vulnerability expressed in Romys voice as she sings ‘can I make it better‘ to a backdrop of minimal synth or I could explain how the isolated and haunting sound of the solo guitar makes my spine tingle when I hear it… but suffice to say the unbelievable talent, emotion and excellence encapsulated in xx speaks for itself.
Whilst the Mercury Prize winner is often not an obvious choice, this year I feel The xx have it in the bag. Whilst their album is stunning and works on an array of levels, I couldn’t help but feel that the intensity of the sound was difficult and limiting to replicate live. Wild Beasts on the other hand offer a sublime record alongside an energised live show.. all I’m going to say on the matter to finish off is……thank god it’s not my decision.
Goodluck to all the nominated artists, in my view you are all WINNERS…and kids – remember to buy your music legally – then everyone’s a WINNER..