OPINION: Who Should Win The Mercury Music Prize?

OK, so we admit the headline is misleading – as twee as it sounds, we’d be happy to see any of these acts win this year’s Mercury Music Prize on Friday night. The prize money, the profile boost, and the genuine championing of homegrown acts is something that just doesn’t get enough applause these days. But of course, an article about that would be hella boring, so here are the picks from some of PressPLAY’s writers (as if this is a fucking democracy. We’ll shove them back in their cages soon enough). 

Soak – Before We Forgot How To Dream (Adeel Amini)

It was a tough call between Wolf Alice and Soak, but the entire experience of 19 year-old Bridie Monds-Watson – from emergence to Mercury star – has really been quite breathtaking to behold. In a debut album and less than two decades, she managed to craft a sparse alt-folk gem with unfathomable depth. With songs tackling everything from bullying to parental strife, the distinct voice of this elfin outsider proved to be a balm for anyone who’s ever felt like an underdog.

And boy, is her live experience something to live for. How just a girl and her guitar can keep an entire audience in pin-drop mesmerism – and one particular reviewer in tears (cough) – is something that simply must be experienced at one point in your life. With any luck, she’ll be able to captivate the Mercury audience with the same amount of charm; if they manage to see even a fraction of what she can do, this one is hers to lose.

Roisin Murphy – Hairless Toys (Nikki Gandy)

From the moment I proudly placed Moloko’s Things to Make and Do in my beat-up ghetto blaster, covered in Smash Hits stickers, I knew I’d found something special. In addition to her unique sound, Roisin Murphy crafts lyrics so sublime that they feel they were written all for me. I grew up with Roisin by my side, and I couldn’t be more excited to see her nominated for the Mercury Prize. 

With 25 years of industry experience to her name, here is a musician and performer who has finely tuned her art into something undeniably reflective of her identity. So it feels fitting that Hairless Toys arrived so organically; a collaboration with producer Eddie Stevens, who has long been the man behind the madness of transforming Moloko and Roisin’s solo creations into the epic live arrangements that leave us all so mesmerised.

It feels like this record, the most autobiographical Roisin Murphy record so far, truly pushes the boundaries of a genre. Not inaccessible yet not straightforward pop and impossible to define. Hairless Toys is the epitome of creativity and dignity in a world where female artists are still scrutinised far more than their male counterparts. PJ Harvey is the only solo female artist to have stood upon the stage to accept the Mercury Prize. Just sayin’ – it’s probably time.

Jamie xx – In Colour (Ed Nightingale / Aaron Whyte)

In Colour got a bit of a bad rep from many when it was released. The critics loved it, but many others panned it for its derivative dance sounds. But that’s exactly what makes it such a great record. It might not be the most original of albums in the grand scheme of things, but it’s the way Mr xx has so effortlessly combined varying dance styles into a complete package that spans the last three decades. It’s the way these styles are twisted into something new, taking the sense of euphoria so intrinsic to dance music and distilling it down to something that’s relaxed, clean and palatable. It’s the way the production is so polished and delicate, eschewing the hard thumping beats that have become commonplace in the clubs. It’s the way the whole album feels like a complete night out that’s been distorted through slow motion.

And where the Mercurys so often favour the obscure, the pretentious, the weird but not necessarily wonderful, it would make a welcome change for one of the more popularist, commercial but no less artistic albums on the list to win. One that, you know, people have actually heard of.

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If we should be rooting for any of the Mercury nominees it should be Jamie xx. Who else is creating such an elegant fusion of London-basement inspired, nostalgia soaked, sad-house? I’ve had enough of The xx. I don’t need any more semi-danceable-mainly-depressing songs by them in my life. Hopefully a solo win will spur Jamie into action as a permanent solo artist. Besides, we’ll still get Romy featuring on his tracks, and that’s always a rather lovely combo isn’t it?

Slaves – Are You Satisfied? (David Yates)

Slaves first tore my eardrums a new one with their Bitter Coated Truth EP only a few years back, and since then they’ve deservedly blasted through fan and critical acclaim toward mainstream radio and a headline UK tour. Word of advice: see these guys live, for they make it impossible for you to not lose your shit. Even if punk isn’t your usual gig, their non-comformist, authority-mocking message is teamed with enough laddish lols for repeat listens (see Girl Fight and Feed The Mantaray).

If that doesn’t impress you, it’s guaranteed that Isaac will get his tits out as he sweats himself half-naked while drumming. Slaves came to fuck up the fun of our Top 40 (so far, so ruddy good) and we owe it to our nation’s post birth punk/grunge-womb to let them take the title this year. Watch out for those kids, they’ll tear you apart.

Ghostpoet – Shedding Skin (Aaron Lee)

Shedding Skin is a marvel of an album. Tender in spots, hauntingly tense in others, it is the latest flourish from an artist whose previous albums were satisfyingly unusual. Through dexterous wordplay, Ghostpoet, real name Obaro Ejimiwe, has flexed his technique of melding the mundane with the musically surreal.

And it earned him a Mercury nominated for his 2011 debut album, Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam. Shedding Skin is his most affecting record to date, as he experiments with new assortments of live instruments and scattered electronics to tell a mature tale of a failing relationship. From the ambient, up-tempo highs, to threatening, abrasive lows, to the reflective and cathartic conclusion, you feel the unnamed couple go from romance to nomance as closely as a Shakespearian tragedy. There are many worthy albums nominated for the Mercury Prize this year, but Ghostpoet is by far the one who deserves to take home the statue.