A number of debut albums made it onto the list, including Dave’s critically acclaimed Psychodrama, Irish band Fontaines DC with Dogrel, experimental rock band Black Midi with Schlagenheim, and rapper Slowthai with Nothing Great About Britain. There is also a clear political vibe, with commentary on Brexit, the NHS, mental health and how we communicate with each other all strong themes on many of the shortlisted entries.
The shortlist follows a shake-up of the judging panel, which added Stormzy, Gaz Coombes, Annie Mac and Jorja Smith, and critic and Vice editor Tshepo Mokoena to the group of experts who will decide the winner at a ceremony later this year.
See the full shortlist for this year’s Mercury Prize:
Anna Calvi – Hunter
Black Midi – Schlagenheim
Cate le Bon – Reward
Dave – Psychodrama
Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost
Fontaines DC – Dogrel
Idles – Joy As An Act of Resistance
Little Simz – GREY Area
Nao – Saturn
Seed Ensemble – Driftglass
Slowthai – Nothing Great About Britain
The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships
Foals have been shortlisted for the third time, having previously appeared on 2013’s list with Holy Fire (losing out to James Blake – Overgrown) and 2010 with Total Life Forever, when the prize was won by The xx for their self-titled debut.
Reviewing part one of Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost (the second half is being released this autumn), Mark Beaumont gave the album five stars and wrote: “It’s a dystopian vision becoming all the more real with every February heatwave, and Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1 is a fitting vehicle.
“Merging their asymmetrical early math pop with the deep space atmospherics of Total Life Forever and Holy Fire, plus added innovations – ambient rainforest throbs on “Moonlight”, deadpan EDM on “In Degrees”, Afro-glitch Radiohead on “Café D’Athens” – they’ve created an inspired album of scorched earth new music that, in all likelihood, will only really be challenged for album of the year by Part 2.”
There’s a strong showing for both UK rap and also an apparent surge in guitar music, with the majority of shortlisted acts making prominent use of the instrument, including Little Simz on her album GREY Area.
Simz and Dave’s albums were also awarded five stars apiece from The Independent. Of Psychodrama, The Independent commented: “A talented pianist as well as a rapper and singer, Dave often spits over discordant chords to amplify the urgency of his chosen subject, or else raps in gruff, assertive tones across an emotional sequence that complements his stoic intensity.
“On “Environment”, he talks about the conflict between what people see of his apparently glamorous life, and the reality behind the scenes where the blood and sweat is drawn out of him. He’s put everything into this album.”
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This year’s “token jazz album”, as it has become known, is the 10-piece SEED Ensemble’s Driftglass, which combines South African jazz with Sixties soul and hip hop influences. The project is helmed by composer Cassie Kinoshi, who also plays alto sax in the jazz septet Nérija and in Afrobeat band Kokoroko. Driftglass’s title is taken from writer Samuel R Delany’s image of glass fragments washed by tides, which Kinoshi adopted for the album as a metaphor for how the tides of improvisation form compositions.
Notable omissions include James Blake's Assume Form along with albums by Florence + the Machine, AJ Tracey, Lucy Rose and previous winner Skepta. As per previous years, metal is ignored by the prize and so critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums by artists including Bring Me the Horizon, Black Peaks, Architects and Employed to Serve have been left off this year's list.
Geoff Taylor, Chief Executive of BPI - home to the Hyundai Mercury Prize, said: “These 12 albums are essential listening! Our outstanding expert panel has selected the most original, urgent and ambitious British and Irish records of the last twelve months, and I’ll be on tenterhooks with everyone else to find out the final Album of the Year when the judges meet again during the live show on September 19th. We are proud to work with our partners the BBC, Hyundai and Amazon Music to support the Prize and I congratulate all the shortlisted artists on their achievement.”
Albums by British and Irish artists with a UK release date between 21 July 2018 and 19 July 2019 were eligible for nomination, with more than 200 submitted.
The full list of judges are: Annie Mac, Clara Amfo, Danielle Perry (broadcaster & writer), Gaz Coombes, Jamie Cullum, Jeff Smith (head of music, 6 Music & Radio 2), Jorja Smith, Mike Walsh (head of music, Radio X), Phil Alexander (creative director, Kerrang!/contributing editor, Mojo), Stormzy, Tshepo Mokoena (editorial director, Vice.com), Will Hodgkinson (chief rock & pop critic, The Times). The chair of the judging panel is Jeff Smith.
The 2019 Mercury Prize takes place on Thursday 19 September at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith, London. You can watch live on BBC Four from 9pm, on BBC Radio 6 Music from 7pm.
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