The Mercury Prize is probably the only music award series, let alone British & Irish music award series, that I actually pay attention or give any credence to. Whereas you can generally predict the albums that will make its way onto other award series i.e. The Killers’ / Coldplay’s / Kings of Leon’s latest offering which all have their place, the shortlist for the Mercury Prize acts as home for those albums of the year you felt deserved better recognition and airplay than they did upon release. Not only are the shortlists generically eclectic, but the winners over the years are not always the most expected to win, for instance Portishead’s Dummy was not expected to win in 1995 but it rightly did anyway.
I’ve found each years shortlist to be a good place to discover bands of quality and this year’s shortlist is particularly exciting. Besides TSAR’s obvious favourite to win, Anna Calvi’s self-titled debut, this year’s shortlist hosts a wide variety of albums and acts, from the relatively unknown to the well established. With this year’s Mercury Prize to be awarded tomorrow night, here are three gems plucked from that list:
King Creosote & Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine
Described by Jon Hopkins as a soundtrack to his ‘romanticised version of Fife’, Diamond Mine is the outcome of a seven year collaborative effort between soundtrack and ambient sound wizard Hopkins and one of Scotland’s finest and most prolific songwriters Kenny ‘King Creosote’ Anderson. Trawling through Anderson’s extensive songbook, the pair worked at rearranging and dissembling songs to their skeletal frames and rebuilding them with subtle instrumentation and recorded samples of the Fife area (which I’m informed is a style called ‘Musique Concrète’. Go figure). From the album’s opening clatter of dishes and tearoom patter on ‘First Watch’ to the gentle exit of Anderson’s delicate falsetto vocals on ‘Your Young Voice’, Hopkins’ indelible use of samples seems to quite literally breathe life into Anderson’s songbook. It truly sounds like a respiring entity, in the same way that even in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere there is a perceptible ‘living’ quality to the silence. Along with the sober Anderson on startlingly good form, this is the sound of Fife as if it were preserved like lightning in a bottle.
Gwilym Simcock – Good Days At Schloss Elmau
Gwilym Simcock’s latest offering is the dark horse of the competition by virtue of not only being a jazz record, not the most prominent musical genre today, but also a purely instrumental venture. Recorded in a single day at Schloss Elmau and consisting solely of Simcock’s dynamic piano playing and percussive slaps, Good Days At Schloss Elmau offers a collection of eclectic and exciting jazz/classical arrangements. Simcock fully exhibits the adaptability and range of the grand piano and it is fascinating how an instrumental piece can convey narratives and emotions effectively without a single word uttered. Those who state that jazz is boring or outdated should listen to this accessible and captivating album.
Ghostpoet – Melancholy Blues & Peanut Butter Jam
Obaro Ejimiwe A.K.A. Ghostpoet has been termed, among other things, a ‘dub poet’ which I feel is an apt term. Ejimiwe’s lyrics and music have quite a bit in common with the works of beat poets, particularly the late Gil Scott-Heron’s last album I’m New Here, and the songs here feel incredibly modern. Recorded and pieced together during Ejimiwe’s University degree at Coventry Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam is a truly contemporary album, mixing together elements of dub, dance, trip hop and rap music all tied together by Ejimiwe’s wonderfully narcotic and woozy vocal delivery. Besides the tongue in cheek title, Ejimiwe exemplifies himself as a witty writer (proclaiming ‘It’s my United Kingdom of Whatever!’ on ‘I Ain’t Finished’) and capable of standing believably in the shoes of anyone he chooses. From detailing the morning school rush on ‘Longing For The Night’ to depicting the monotony of being stuck in a dead end job on ‘Gaaasp’, Ghostpoet is an astute observer of modern living, addressing the issues of our everyday existence with a realistic optimism that pulls you through into tomorrow. Album closer ‘Liiines’ is an uplifting anthem that Ejimiwe describes as, ‘Sort of a slap in the face to myself to wake up and get on with it’, and in these too often oppressively dreary times we can always use a bit of that.
If you want to listen to these albums and find out more I highly recommend you check out BBC 6 Musics recent series, ‘The Complete Mercurys’, where the artists themselves offer insight into the making and inspiration of their albums track by track. Check it out here.