13 September 2016

Mercury Music Prize 2016 - Collective look at this year's nominations

So here we are, the Mercury Music Prize will be announced in a few days’ times and all the albums have been reviewed by the team.  It has been (as always) a mix bag that has been nominated, but this time there has been a definite leaning towards more urban music with both Skepta & Kano being nominated.  The obvious contenders were also picked up and a few leftfield options to confuse people.  But what were our thoughts?  Did we enjoy them all or were there a lot of fool’s gold in the mix?  ­­­Well, below are links to each review a little snippet from each one as well (if you click the title of each album, you will be able to read the full review):

Anonhi – Hopelessness – Reviewed by Helen Carter

Anohni has a wonderful voice-very feminine but deep and dark -it's breathy and unique. It's rich and I love it.
Her vocals glide over familiar pop territory, and, just before I get bored-there’s gritty dirty scratching noise and a thumping vibrating beat rumbles in and it's saved from the mundane-it is elevated. If you listen to the lyrics, the politically seething furious opinions and it's raging in a cage but it's also pretty funky. It's an insidious seeping riot it's a jazz pop rebellion/march/protest-against a pretty fucked up political economical and environmental climate.

Score: 9 out of 10 – Almost perfect, almost…...

Bat for Lashes – The Bride – Reviewed by Andrew Oyston

This was a strange one to rate. There are some absolute belting tracks here, including my favourite, "In God's House", but at the same time, there are tracks that just meander about for no purpose. It's disappointing as otherwise, this would be at least an 8.

Score: 6 out of ten – Now I see where you were going, but not quite there.

David Bowie – Blackstar – Reviewed by Eddie Carter (Please note – the review was written two days before David Bowie past away – Ed)

Wow, just wow.  That is one of the best albums that David Bowie has released ever, not just recently or for the last few decades – ever.   It is one of those moments where everything else is blown out of the water and you know that you are hearing something special.  It is a jazz heavy album from a rock star who we all thought was grown old gracefully, well he has just stuck two fingers up at that idea and released a glorious piece of art and we are only eight days into the new year.  I would question the fact that two of the songs are re-recordings, I could question his desire to name drop Kendrick Lamar, I could question the partial star symbols – none of that means anything as this album blows all those thoughts out of the water.  It may not have a "Strangers When We Meet" or a "Queen Bitch", but it has a collective spirit which is so rare in music these days (sadly).  If ‘The Next Day’ was the rock star facing his mortality, this is the artist fighting on; I have to say that even with the year in single digits, I would not be surprised if this is my album of 2016.

10 out of ten - This is proof that there is a God

The Comet Is Coming – Channel The Spirit – Review by Marc Richardson

At first listen I thought, plenty of goings on, a few twists and turns here, and on first impressions I thought, it's an interesting piece Channel The Spirit, but a fraction disjointed at times. The running theme is easily interpretable, it's something that people from the 1960s could relate to with its concept and minimal band members, three in all; but you know something? This could really get better with age if they show this sort of depth and creativeness in their following albums. For now, a cautious mark with an expectation for better things to come.

7 out of ten – This is good and well worth a check.

Jamie Woon – Making Time – Review by Eddie Carter

It is safe to say that this is not the album for me, no beating around the bush - it is dull and at times it is very uninspiring.  The musicians on here sound as if they are being held back a little by the vision of the artist and it just needed a few extra things to take it from where it is to be just decent.  But I have mentioned throughout that there are a few things missing, one of them is the aforementioned sound, this could have been more and it sounds a little hollow.  Second, it is the actual vocals by the artist himself.  Jamie Woon's vocals are do not sound at home with the music for me.  He can sing, I cannot take that away from the man and I would not want to; but there is a difference between passion and talent, the man might have a talent for singing, but there is little to no passion to that performance.  I might be wrong, but I think he might want to sing in a different medium and this is an album that the label wanted over the artist, but such is the price of fame sometimes.  It is not the worst album I have heard this year and as I said, I cannot fault the musicians, but it is certainly one of the blandest ones and that is slightly sad.

3 out of ten - Not for everyone but played well.

Kano – Made In The Manor – Reviewed by Chris Jermyn

After what I felt to be initial promise, I felt a bit let down by some of the latter tracks for this album. Seemed to be an over-reliance on slow beats and piano melodies - which would be fine if there was a bit of oomph to them but I couldn't hear it. The first few tracks were great and showed real promise, but ultimately, this was a very front-loaded album. Kano is certainly a talented rapper whose lyrics, rhymes and delivery are great but some more consistent beats and melodies would be nice. The overall effect was like listening to some stuff by Ice-T and then following that up with (New Jack clowns) Color Me Badd - which actually happened on the "New Jack City" soundtrack. Hopefully, this will be rectified on the next album.

6 out of ten – Now I see where you were going, but not quite there.

Laura Mvula – The Dreaming Room – Reviewed by Chris Jermyn

Turns out I had nothing to worry about! I don't feel as bad listening to this album as I did the last one so that's a bonus. All in all, it was a decent album which showcased more variety than the last one, seems that Mvula has ditched Eternal in favour of Enya which if you ask me, is an improvement already. If she keeps this up, I may even become a fan.

7 out of ten – This is good and well worth a check.

Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate – Reviewed by Luke Dunmore

So yeah, this album wasn't what I was expecting and was a pleasant surprise. I didn't think it would be bad as such but just nothing special. Love & Hate starts strongly, dips in the middle and then picks it right back up at the end with four excellent songs. This is Michael's second album and also his second nomination for a Mercury prize. Hopefully this year he'll be more successful, although I would imagine David Bowie and his sympathy votes will be a shoe-in this year.

7 out of ten – This is good and well worth a check

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Hole - Reviewed by Eddie Carter

This album is much better than I was expecting, after "Burn the Witch" I was a little sceptical about the album and how it would possibly turn out.  It is a sparse record, the absence of the electronica sound and (for the most part) the electric guitars is very refreshing to these ears.  It will be viewed as a break up record, but some of these songs pre-date the recent private events that have effected some of the band members.  You can sense that this album is destined to be a companion for people on those long, dark nights to help people reach the dawn with some sanity still attached.  So is it the be all & end all that other reviews have claimed it to be?  No, it is not even close to that - but that is what happens when a band like Radiohead release an album, the world reviews the band and not the music and whilst it is good, it is not amazing.  So why is it getting an 8 out of ten?  Just because it is not the best record ever, it does not mean that I dislike of hate the album.  I like 'A Moon Shaped Pool' a lot as it shows a different side to the band; but I see it for what it is, not for what will make people like my blog.  It is a very good album that I recommend people hearing, just go into it with your eyes open and leave your preconceptions at the door.  Also, bring some tissues; it may make you cry with a joint sense of sorrow and loss.

8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart

Savages – Adore Life – Reviewed by Luke Dunmore

The production of Adore Life is really good. It's very bass heavy but also crystal clear and each band member is perfectly audible. The production obviously benefits bassist Ayse Hassan who shines on every track. I've just read Chris's review of their debut and he says the same which I was pleased about.  I don't know how this will fare in the Mercury, even if David 'dead now' Bowie wasn't nominated but it's an excellent album and deserves to do well.

8 out of 10 - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart

Skepta – Konnichiwa – Reviewed by Eddie Carter

I like this album, it is a strong, passionate and well-crafted record.  The raps are crisp, the beat loud and the bass, oh that massive bass is able to raise the dead and cause Atlantis to rise out of the Atlantic Ocean.  I would be lying if I said that this is the album I would have be looking for, I do not want come across as an old man trying to sound hip and digging the current sound; it would reek of bullshit from the start and that is not how I write.  Would I play this normally, I don't know that for certain; but it does have something about it that cannot be quantified, call it passion, call it determination - there is a factor on here (not calling it X Factor, that name has been sullied) that you do not always get with music.  The sound is one of the loudest that I have heard outside of The Bug and whilst I might not be from the scene that created this album, I know that this will be a huge album for both Grime and also the UK music scene.  If it was not for the Mercury Prize, this might have passed me by and I think it is has a great chance of winning the event; there is a repetitive nature to some of the music, but the raps elevate this album.  An interesting contender for the crown, definitely one of the better releases in this line up.

7.5 out of ten - This is good and worth checking out

The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep,For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It – Reviewed by Eddie Carter

Now for the rub - overall, this album is good and very brave in places (with a few dicks moves in the mix as well), but too over reaching in it desire to forefill all the ambitions of the band in one go.  I do think that their ambition is admirable and deserves to be applauded and recognised for what it is, but I reckon that quantity control is something that is needed as well which will come with experience and one day they will make a breath taking album that will make me eat my words here.  I will be interested to see where they go from here and I hope they have continued success, together will some emotional support that is clearly required in places.

7 out of ten - This is good and worth checking out

And that is that!  According to our marks out of ten, here is how we list the albums

12 – Jamie Woon – Making time (3 out of ten)
11 – Kano –  Made In The Manor (6 out of ten)
10 – Bat for Lashes – The Bride (6 out of ten)
09 – The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It (7 out of ten)
08 – Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate (7 out of ten)
07 – The Comet Is Coming – Channel The Spirit (7 out of ten)
06 – Laura Mvula – The Dreaming Room (7 out of ten)
05 – Skepta – Konnichiwa (7.5 out of ten)
04 – Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (8 out of ten)
03 – Savages – Adore Life (8 out of ten)
02 – Anonhi – Hopelessness (9 out of ten)
01 – David Bowie – Blackstar (10 out of ten)

Now, whilst normally David Bowie topping a list would be amazing and it is certainly a 10 out of ten album, I am not too sure it will be the winner (and this is Eddie speaking personally).  I have always thought that the Mercury Music Prize needs to go out to the lesser known artists in a way, someone who does not have as much press pages about them as other artists as they need to publicity and to be honest I think 'Blackstar' is going to be in a lot of end of year lists anyway and winning this would be seen as a sympathy vote.  I will be honest here, when I was discussing this with other people they thought the Bowie mark was just that
a sympathy vote as the man was no longer with us.  I can say with 100% honest, I posted that review just two days before he passed away I was just trying to get it out when people were talking about it, obviously no-one knew what was coming and it was (and still is) a sad time; but even then, I think this album is being held as a classic and how would winning help it?  Same goes for Radiohead 'A Moon Shaped Pool', would they benefit for a win?  I don’t really think they would, but I would not be unhappy or disappoint if either won as they are great albums.  I would love to see someone like Savages, Skepta, Anonhi (even though she has technically won before with ‘I Am A Bird’ with Antony & The Johnsons) or Michael Kiwanuka win this award; but based on the mark, the album that would win if our blog was voting is David Bowie – 'Blackstar'.  As Jerm has managed to review the winner for the last two years, we are reckoning it will be either Laura Mvula or Kano.

Eddie Carter – 13 September 2016

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