The Beast bombed so I’m back­ing Alt-j for the Mer­cury

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

ALL THAT money I lost on Yo­han Blake (thanks for noth­ing, slow coach) will have to be clawed back by go­ing all-in on Alt-J to win this year’s Mer­cury Prize. The mys­te­ri­ous judg­ing panel al­ways like a bit of art-rock and it just seems like right time, right place for the Cam­bridge four-piece. Peo­ple some­times for­get the Mer­cury is awarded for the best British and Ir­ish al­bum of the year but the only act from “Eire” that the book­ies are go­ing any­where near is New Ross’s Mav­er­ick Sabre.

There’s been a bit of a change this year, in that the short­list won’t be an­nounced un­til Septem­ber 12th (the over­all win­ner will be known on Novem­ber 1st). The main names float­ing around in­clude The Mac­cabees, Bom­bay Bi­cy­cle Club, Rumer, Django Django, Sweet Billy Pil­grim, Richard Haw­ley, Hot Chip and Olympic Gold medal­list Emeli Sandé.

The book­ies’ favourites, though, are Alt-J. Their An Awe­someWave al­bum is such an eclec­tic whirl of gen­res and tropes that you re­ally have to in­vent a new “kitchen sink” de­scrip­tion for what they do. At its core the al­bum is clas­sic art rock but most ev­ery­thing you’ve ever pre­vi­ously heard in mu­sic makes a cameo ap­pear­ance along the way.

It’s rid­dled, too, with all man­ner of lit­er­ary and visual art il­lu­sions, but what they re­ally have go­ing for them is that they’re not an “indie-sch­mindy” band – they’re way above that mori­bund sound. It makes per­fect sense to read that their mu­sic has al­ready been used in the Lou­vre – for an in­stal­la­tion. We can only hope the Mer­cury panel don’t get a case of the vapours if they find out that one of those chil­dren in One Di­rec­tion has al­ready tweeted about how much he loves the band.

It’s not cut and dried for Alt-J, though. Such is the di­a­logue around the Prize now, that be­ing the run­away favourite be­fore the nom­i­na­tions are even an­nounced might ac­tu­ally mil­i­tate against you (it has hap­pened in the past).

All of the names listed back up in para­graph two should be there or there­abouts on Septem­ber 12th, but you should also be look­ing out for Paul Buchanan, Rustie ( Glass Swords is fre­quently men­tioned in dis­patches), Jessie Ware (fan­tas­tic new vo­cal tal­ent), and Gra­ham Coxon.

The one al­bum I re­ally want to see on the list is the June Ta­bor and Oys­ter­band col­lab­o­ra­tion, Ragged King­dom, but there are pos­si­bly a few too many cov­ers on it. And it will be crim­i­nally neg­li­gent if Lianne La Havas doesn’t get a nod. Ex­pect Por­tico Quar­tet to be back again this year as the to­ken “dif­fer­ent” choice. And it will be no great sur­prise if SBTRKT makes the cut.

Bear­ing in mind that the judges al­ways like to re­ward new tal­ent but don’t like to ne­glect older acts, the two big “her­itage” choices here would seem to be Spir­i­tu­al­ized and Tin­der­sticks. It’s al­ways a bit of a shock to see how ne­glected the lat­ter band are, given the con­sis­tently sublime qual­ity of their work.

There will have to be a nod some­where to com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful mu­sic. In the past, acts such as Take That have been nom­i­nated – it al­lows the prize to shake off ac­cu­sa­tions of mu­si­cal snob­bery and indie elitism. Florence and the Ma­chine don’t re­ally fit the bill here so we’re left with the ap­palling vista of Ed Sheeran get­ting a nom­i­na­tion.

This year, the awards cer­e­mony hav­ing moved to Chan­nel 4, there’s been a bit of “brand ex­pan­sion” go­ing on at the Mer­cury. When the short­list is an­nounced next month, each of the 12 acts is some­what duty bound to go out and play their nom­i­nated al­bum at a show lead­ing up to the Novem­ber 1st bash. It’s un­clear (as are as­pects of how they se­lect the short­list and the win­ner) if these per­for­mances will be taken into ac­count for the fi­nal judg­ment.

But here’s to Alt-J. I have my worry beads at the ready.

Alt-J: not just an “in­di­esch­mindie” band

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