Plan B – Ill Manors
It is perhaps ironic that – in these politically charged times – popular music is no longer as political and rebellious as it was in previous decades. There is strong feeling amongst people young and old across the political spectrum against austerity and public spending cuts yet, remarkably, this is barely reflected in today’s music.
While I certainly don’t agree with his entire message, the fact that Plan B has a political message at all should put him in contention for the Mercury Music Prize this year. It also helps that he delivers his message with wit on top of the finely crafted music.
The album enables Plan B to tell short stories of youth exposed to violence, drugs, and the nastier side of inner-city living. On “Lost My Way”, he laments the prospects of youths that “hang with thugs and sell drugs”, concluding that “these kids ain’t got no hope”.
It’s not all negative, however. The album does take an aspirational and hopeful turn in the form of the Kano featuring “Live Once”, but this does not prevent the album being an angry call to arms for the youth of Britain. There is little subtlety in Drew’s lyrics, but with the charts thoroughly cleansed of any political message, this is clearly a deliberate move.
Plan B has once again shown his remarkable talent for production and rap, having dabbled in soul music and film. Such talent is more than deserving of the Mercury Music Prize.
—- Jack Smith, Assistant Editor
Jessie Ware – Devotion
Sophisticated, elegant and unique – these are the words that come to minf whilst trying to describe Devotion, Jessie Ware’s début album. Her songs are truly honest, and explore everyday themes which everyone can relate to. In one of her interviews she says that she is not a complicated person, that she feels what she sings and hopes that it’s enough. It’s a refreshingly honest attitude.
In a recent Pitchfork interview, Ware says that there’s a lot of fantasy or embellishment in Devotion. The album is about relationships, but she’s stated that she definitely wanted it to feel as effeminate and romantic as possible without becoming saccharine. Whilst the topic of the album is pretty straight forward the music itself offers a vast amount variation. Although it’s a straight up soul album, it’s clear that her previous musical experience has had an effect – the influence of previously singing on dance songs can still be felt and makes the album edgy; she definitely has her own niche and a distinguishable voice.
When you’re listening to this album for the first time, it might seem as if most of it is laid back – and that’s certainly the case, as it doesn’t exactly scream for attention by today’s standards. However, it soon becomes obvious that some of the songs are much deeper than they first sound, and quickly get stuck in your head. You’ll find yourself happily listening to them over and over again.
—- Marili Vosmi
The Maccabees – Given to the Wild
A worthy Mercury Prize nominee is The Maccabees with their third album ‘Given to the Wild’. With an indie-folk-rock guitar music sound they are beginning to appeal to more and more people with this album reaching a massive top five spot in the album charts, the highest position the band has ever seen. Along with this, the band headlined the NME music stage at Reading and Leeds Festival earlier this year, and is currently touring around America with Florence + The Machine with a tour around Europe closely following with the Black Keys. Touring with such massive names demonstrates how well loved the Maccabees are and they will definitely prove to be a worthy support act and naturally a headline tour should follow.
When commenting in an interview about what it means to be nominated for the prize the band said,
‘It’s great for this record, this record was a big thing for us, it’s done a lot for us as a band… it’s really nice’
For this little band from south London, this is amazing news and although the band aren’t award orientated, they don’t make their music to win prizes- it is just an added bonus if they do, they have also been nominated for Best Album at this years Q awards for the same album.
If you have never heard of the Maccabees, you should definitely try them out, especially if you are a fan of bands such as Mumford and Sons. With the bands inventive lyrical music it is hard to find a track on this album that someone doesn’t like. My favourites are Pelican and Went Away, which are well worth a listen. This band has been around since 2004, and now it is finally getting the recognition it deserves. Although they aren’t the bookies favourite, I really hope they win.
—- Kirsty Lee
Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again
Michael Kiwanuka’s debut, ‘Home Again’ is something of an anomaly on the Mercury Prize list. There are no comments on the state of the nation here, à la Plan B’s offering ‘Ill Manors’ or last year’s winner PJ Harvey’s ‘Let England Shake.’ There’s no electronic innovation or indie ‘quirkiness’ found elsewhere on the list, just sincere, sumptuous soul. ‘Home Again,’ doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it doesn’t need to. The soul-folk formula is tried and tested and the main thing that shines through on the album is Kiwanuka’s overwhelming talent. Often compared to Otis Redding, his voice is softer and cleaner than Redding’s and his songs, rather than soul belters, are folksy ballads – more Nick Drake than Sam Cooke.
A large portion of this year’s Mercury Prize nominees performed at Bestival, which I was lucky enough to attend. Admittedly, out of all of them I only managed to see Kiwanuka, but I was hugely glad I did. A stand-out moment of the set was a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘May This Be Love’ in which I (a lifelong Hendrix fan) conceded that his voice is arguably better than Jimi’s was. It was at this moment that I realised what a talent Michael Kiwanuka is, and the modest-sized crowd seemed to agree. It is for this reason I believe he should win the Mercury Prize – talent. In this cultural climate of the X-Factor I believe the true meaning of the word has been lost, and it’s up to artists like Kiwanuka who haven’t won any talent shows but have been brought to the public’s attention through sheer ability (and maybe a bit of Youtube) to remind people what it really means. Also, if interviews and his performance at Bestival are anything to go by, he’s a thoroughly nice bloke and that has to count for something.
—- Jeremy Reed
Richard Hawley – Standing at the Sky’s Edge
My Mum loves Richard Hawley – she has all of his albums, a laminated picture of him up in the living room and she’s even been to see him twice. His soulful, melancholic wailings are the backdrop to a night in at home and now I’ve started to love him too. Hawley is like a modern-day Johnny Cash but from Sheffield. First nominated for the Mercury back in 2006, he lost to the Arctic Monkeys; Alex Turner proclaiming even then; “Someone call 999, Richard Hawley’s been robbed!” Although it’s not just the Arctics that are in awe of Hawley’s gentle charm – his steady release of solidly great albums have been causing a stir in those who are a bit too old for NME, yet who still want to remain on the pulse of things.
‘Standing at the Sky’s Edge’ is the album nominated; the title track, heavier than usual, sets the tone for a large part, with ‘Seek It’ and ‘Don’t Stare at the Sun’ providing dreamy relief – it’s perfectly balanced, infused with touches of psychedelic, impressive guitar solos. Hawley seems more content and – dare I say it – hippy-ish, in his latest efforts. It’s one of those that is a grower; nice to have on in the background, until your ears really start to sit up and listen – then it’s great.
Tipped to be the bookie’s favourite, alongside Plan B, Hawley is certainly in with a good chance this year. Seven albums in a long, long career (a guitarist in Pulp, member of Britpop legends Longpigs), and he’s still on top of his game. Rarely can you find something so lovely that is so listenable all the way through. It’s an album to be treasured, one that can be turned to in times of introspection, with a cup of tea in hand. What more could you want?
—- Daisy Wood
Lianna La Havas – Is Your Love Big Enough?
A nomination for this year’s prestigious Barclaycard Mercury Prize for best album could only have made Lianne La Havas’ birthday an unforgettable one. Yet this songstress is making waves across the popular music scene with her fellow nominee, Ben Howard who performed exactly a year ago at Latitude Festival’s Word Arena stage where last summer, she and her band announced the release of her album the next day and consequently her debut album peaked at an impressive top four.
“Is Your Love Big Enough?” cannot be bought on the gravitas of its title track alone although it was enough to shift her into the mainstream from a persevered artist whose two years in the industry releasing critically acclaimed EPs and selling out tours cultivate a career highlight to perform at BBC’s Later with Jools Holland. Surely this would be enough for her to garner the ultimate British prize for best album in place of the Brits? This native Londoner is certainly up against some strong nominees, some less renowned but nevertheless inherently British, talented and musically apt. One thing is for sure, no more can the sound of Django Django, Michael Kiwanuka and Jessie Ware could be any more different and most importantly, distinct. To win or not to win, she and her fellow nominees all exemplify the kind of credible British artists offering a rescue to otherwise troubled industry on the other side of the pacific. Something tells me Lianne La Havas is doing well with or without the award after she affirms a rumour about collaboration with the legendary musician, Prince.
—- Jensen Tudtud