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