Mercury Prize 2016
Albums of the year
2016 was a landmark year for the UK’s most prestigious music prize, and not just because they were celebrating their silver anniversary. For the first time ever, the Mercury Prize panel whittled down the 12 shortlisted albums to a final five, and allowed fans to select the sixth finalist. The 1975 won the public vote, but it was Skepta who eventually took home the prize, for his magnificent fourth album Konnichiwa. Check out all the nominated albums below.
Naming your solo debut ‘Greatest Hits’ might seem a tad hubristic but, as Skepta’s proved, if you’ve the talent to back-up your self-belief, things will pan out pretty sweetly. A decade on, the Boy Better Know-founder now finds himself at the forefront of the UK’s most vital music scene, with A-listers like Drake and Kanye clamouring for collaborations, and is now releasing a fourth album worthy of that greatest hits tag. Featuring the colossal singles ‘Man’, ‘Shutdown’ and ‘That’s Not Me’ – plus collaborations with Pharrell, Wiley and Jme – Konnichiwa is the sound of the Tottenham grime star operating at the peak of his powers. Believe the hype.
When you’ve a back catalogue as peerless as David Bowie’s, you can be afforded the luxury of looking back a little. From its Heroes-referencing artwork to the stately art-rock within, his 2013 comeback LP, The Next Day, did just that. By contrast, this follow-up finds the 69-year-old reverting to trailblazing type with an unpredictable, pioneering set inspired by free jazz and Kendrick Lamar, and variously referencing John Ford, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and British cant slang Polari. Ably assisted by producer Tony Visconti, Grammy-nominated saxophonist Donny McCaslin and acclaimed drummer Mark Guiliana, Bowie creates a universe where jazz, industrial rock, drum n bass and glacial electronica co-exist in perfect harmony. Spellbinding stuff from start to finish.
As dream career beginnings go, it doesn’t get much better than winning the BBC Sound Of poll, bagging a Mercury Prize nomination, and being invited to open for Adele and collaborate with Kanye. Conversely, this chain of events actually sent Michael Kiwanuka into a spiral of self-doubt post-Home Again. We can only be thankful he rallied, because this follow-up is as fascinating an examination of struggles with confidence and trust as you’ll hear this year, plus Kiwanuka’s decision to secure Danger Mouse to perform production duties proves an inspired move. From the wistful, string-driven sprawl of the title-track to gospel-inspired single ‘Black Man In A White World’, Love & Hate feels like a significant step forward.
- I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it (Explicit) The 1975 26/02/2016 From £9.99
Riling #realmusic fans everywhere, The 1975 successfully straddled the worlds of rock and pop with their debut, earning both the prime chart positions and big money festival slots to prove it. This much-hyped follow-up will doubtless do little to please indie purists. Even slicker and more synth-driven than its predecessor, the heaviest I like it when you sleep... ever gets is the glammy, INXS-inspired ‘Love Me’. However, from the rave-piano bounce of ‘The Sound’ to the tear-stained shimmer of ‘Somebody Else’, there are enough earworms to guarantee the quartet continued success.
“I feel lost and found at the same damn time... I got losing on my mind,” probably aren’t words you’d expect to hear on the second album by an artist who scored BRIT, Mercury Prize and Ivor Novello nominations for their debut. Written while grappling with excruciating anxiety attacks, divorce and the stress surrounding newfound fame, the fact that The Dreaming Room exists at all is something of a miracle. The fact it’s arguably even better than Sing To The Moon is testament to Laura Mvula’s significant talents. Prepare yourself for inventive arrangements, soaring melodies and soulful vocals throughout, plus a hard-earned note of defiance on energetic closer ‘Phenomenal Woman’.
Where a mutual affection for Warp Records has directed much of Radiohead’s output post-OK Computer, A Moon Shaped Pool finds Britain’s best band combining their love for experimental electronica with a set of influences that extend from Solid Air-era John Martyn to Erased Tapes-esque contemporary classical music. As a result, this relatively serene, frequently string-led, ninth LP often feels like the calm after the electrical storm that was The King Of Limbs. That it’s no less innovative or engaging is largely thanks to Johnny Greenwood’s intricate arrangements and producer Nigel Godrich’s deft use of layering, both of which really shine on songs like ‘The Numbers’, ‘Daydreaming’ and ‘Present Tense’. It’s a real treat to hear long-time live-favourite ‘True Love Waits’ finally committed to tape too.
If the prospect of an album critiquing ecocide, surveillance culture, US defence policy and the brutality of drone warfare doesn’t sound like the most joyous way to spend 40 minutes, we urge you to put your preconceptions aside: this is a beautiful, powerful and inexplicably uplifting protest record. Written in collaboration with Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, Hopelessness is a far cry from the pastoral indie-folk of Anohni’s work with Antony and the Johnsons, and her previous collaborations with Hercules and Love Affair. And yet, the album’s elastic beats, doomy subs and euphoric synths prove the ideal vehicle for Anohni’s soulful melisma, and bring an added sense of urgency to her searing missives. Quite astonishingly brilliant.
A decade on from her debut, Natasha Khan continues to acquit herself as one of the UK’s brightest musical talents with an ambitious concept record centred around doomed nuptials. Khan is convincing as the titular bride-to-be – widowed prior to the wedding – and delivers a sensitive portrayal of the ensuing emotional fall-out. The Bride is intended to soundtrack a feature film, and it shows in the cinematic arrangements, be that the Angelo Baladamenti-esque ‘Close Encounters’ or the eerie sound design that encircles Khan’s soliloquy on ‘Widow’s Peak’. In keeping with the sombre subject matter, this is also a markedly more subdued set than The Haunted Man, but what the album lacks in energy it more than makes up for in exquisitely beautiful songwriting.
Hotly-tipped in 2011 alongside the all-conquering James Blake, Jamie Woon released a strong debut and then all but disappeared, save a sublime collaboration with Portico. Seconds into this long-awaited follow-up, you’re instantly reminded why the West Londoner was so lauded in this first place. Combining smooth, supple vocals and subtle, jazz-inspired arrangements, Making Time is made up of the sort of minimalist electro-soul that stealthily seeps into your subconscious and steadfastly refuses to budge. It takes courage to create music that doesn’t clamour for attention, and Woon’s creative approach rewards patient listeners, offering up startling gems like Willy Mason-collaboration ‘Celebration’ and the silky, afterhours grooves like ‘Sharpness’.
More than a decade on from his debut, and six years on from Method to the Maadness, Kano blazes back with a fifth LP that proves he’s lost none of his power to impress nor his desire to experiment. Made In The Manor finds the former N.A.S.T.Y. Crew-member reflecting on his East London upbringing – recounting the streets he roamed, the characters he met, and the scrapes he survived – and inviting a diverse array of guest collaborators to join him on the journey. Whether sparring with fellow grime stars Giggs and Wiley on ‘3 Wheel-ups’, sharing airtime with Damon Albarn on the melancholic ‘Deep Blues’, or representing solo on the aptly-titled ‘New Banger’, the East Ham son reinforces his pedigree as one of the UK’s most compelling MCs, with seemingly effortless ease.
Back in January of 2015, Savages staged a nine-date residency in New York to road-test new material. Each performance was filmed and subsequently scrutinised by the quartet, and songs were fine-tuned accordingly. This thorough approach is now paying dividends, because not only is Adore Life entirely flab-free, it’s also imbued with the confidence that comes with basing creative decisions on empirical evidence. From the visceral punk-aggression of ‘T.I.W.Y.G.’ and ‘The Answer’ to the epic melancholia of ‘Adore’, the follow-up to Silence Yourself firmly cements Savages as one of Britain’s most vital guitar bands. A second Mercury Prize nomination beckons.
For the purposes of The Comet Is Coming, keyboardist Dan Leavers, drummer Maxwell Hallett, and Sons of Kemet-saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings operate under the Mighty Boosh-ish pseudonyms Danalogue The Conqueror, Betamax Killer and King Shabaka. Song titles like ‘Journey Through The Asteroid Belt’ and ‘New Age’ sound a little like Boosh plotlines too, but their cosmic strain of improv jazz bears a far closer resemblance to Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders and Funkadelic’s experiments than it does Howard Moon’s self-indulgent noodlings. If you’re seeking a mind-bending experience minus “chemical enhancements”, Channel The Spirits is the one.