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Mercury Prize 2012: Writers’ Early Predictions

 
By on Tuesday, 18th September 2012 at 11:00 am
 

So it’s been about a week since the nominees for the 2012 Mercury Prize were announced. We here at TGTF have been mulling over the options, and here are our early thoughts on who will win this year’s gong.

Mary Chang, Editor (current location: Washington, DC, USA)
With the exception of Leeds band Roller Trio, all of the acts nominated for this year’s Mercury Prize are no stranger are known acts. A large proportion of the 12 nominees are those with high profile debut albums. The releases by alt-J, Ben Howard, Django Django, Jessie Ware, Lianne La Havas, Michael Kiwanuka, the Roller Trio blokes and Sam Lee being considered this year all fall into that category.

Wait a minute, count those up again. That’s eight. You read that right. EIGHT. That’s means without even counting bookies’ odds, there’s a two out of three chance a debut album will be picked. Was this shortlist borne out of the fact that legend PJ Harvey‘s album ‘Let England Shake’ won the honour last year (and it was her second time winning), so the powers that be decided the list should be more heavily weighted to favour newcomers? The nominees should reflect the best of the best, and not because a band has suddenly leaped onto the scene on the strength of on media buzz. Let us not forget Speech Debelle’s win in 2009. Where is that follow-up album, eh, Debelle?

I’m not saying that there is no danger of having sentimental favourites nominated because there can be the thinking that although a band has been around forever and they never have won anything, let’s give them a go this time around, shall we? I am saying that given the importance and weight of a Mercury Prize nomination, let alone actually winning the prize, the winner shouldn’t be the band that has the largest promotional effort. Which, let’s face it, tends to happen with the Next Big Thing band, because thanks to the cynicism of labels, bands are pushed hardest when they are signed and put out their first releases. When the list was released last Wednesday, I groaned inwardly because there is one band on this list whose lead singer’s voice I cannot stand, but I expect to hear him and his band constantly on BBC Radio in the next 2 months without fail, all thanks to their Mercury nomination…

So my vote is for Field Music‘s ‘Plumb’. This is pop, but not in the way you used to view pop. It’s interesting and intricate, with piano and guitar lines that sound like no-one else’s. And more importantly, what they come up with is entirely unexpected. Brothers David and Peter Brewis trade off on lead vocal and drumming duties, adding two additional variables into the mix. They’ve made it okay not just to like but embrace the art rock genre, with its atypical time signatures, flying directly in the face of that urban pop piffle that’s become all too commonplace on radio. And this album has the word “smart” written all over it. Seriously, when was the last time you heard transitional bits in an album that were purposely made into tracks, and they worked? Should they win, I’m expecting naysayers to complain that they’ve been around too long and ‘Plumb’ isn’t as fresh as some of the debut albums that were nominated. Just because something’s new doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good, or the best. ‘Plumb’ is an intelligently written, intelligently made album that deserves this praise.

John Fernandez (current location: Lincoln, UK)
The question on most people’s lips: “where’s the crazy curveball they normally throw at you?” I, for once, found myself knowing all the acts nominated, something almost unheard of over the last few years! When looking at the list the name that jumps out is an obvious one: alt-J have been gathering plaudits far and wide and feel almost as certain to win as the xx did in 2010. You really would be a fool to bet against them, but I never said I was anything but a fool.

My money is going slap bang on Plan B, an artist who over a short career has reinvented himself so successfully. ‘The Ballad of Strickland Banks’ introduced a character and backed him up with some of the most soulful tunes of the past decade, thoroughly thrusting Ben Drew into the mainstream. Now his new album ‘Ill Manors’ is out and he is firmly back to his roots, rapping about financial hardship on council estates and the plight of “Broken Britain”. Plan B says he wants to have the same impact by winning this that Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Boy in Da Corner’ did, and why not? He’s the outspoken voice of his generation.

alt-J are cool and have some killer tunes, but Plan B is representing the underrepresented and should win the Mercury Prize.

Luke Morton (current location: London, UK)
alt-J must be the favourites to win the Mercury Prize this year, and for good reason. Since their inception in 2011 with the ‘?’ EP, the Cambridge four-piece have been spreading their melancholy, indie pop across Britain to the delight of the mainstream music press including BBC Music and NME.

Debut LP ‘An Awesome Wave’ is a supreme example of the evolution of indie in the UK in recent years, as it flirts with ideas of folk, electronica, art rock and straight-up pop music. It’s been accused of being too pretentious but it’s in fact a perfectly-crafted, 44-minute odyssey into experimental playfulness that has produced the enchanting singles ‘Breezeblocks’ and ‘Tessellate’. There’s a reason the internet exploded at the release of this album, and hopefully it will receive the recognition it deserves.

Martin Sharman (current location: Gateshead, UK)
This year, the Mercury judges have the opportunity to comment on not just music, but society itself. For they have nominated Ill Manors, Plan B‘s uncompromising soundtrack to his eponymous feature film, a collection of grim stories set on a London council estate. This is the real deal: Ben Drew has the requisite first-hand knowledge to make a story of council estate debauchery and violence spring to life, and is reinforced here by collaborators of impeccable credentials. Never before has there been such a vivid piece of work documenting council estate life, and the moral- and morale-crushing struggle for survival which such an environment engenders.

Plan B pulls no punches; there are stories about drugs, violence, prostitution, drugs, gangs, and more drugs, leavened with heavy doses of swearing. No doubt there will be some who dismiss this as nothing more than a tabloid-style “demonisation” of the working class, exaggerating and exploiting their woes for cynical financial gain. Which is nonsense. Everything here has the ring of truth about it: Drew grew up on the eponymous estate; John Cooper Clarke is on board, and he, of anyone, knows his subject; take a wander through the syringes and discarded aluminium spoons of any run-down corner of London’s concrete chaos and then reasses those opinions. This is a more important piece of work than any dry government report on “Broken Britain” – its task is to seep into the consciousness of those lucky enough to have grown up on a manor not quite so ill, and make them aware of what’s going on, often just a mile or two down the road. In comparison, every other nominee appears twee and enfeebled – pretty music, but nothing with the relevance and gravitas of this collection. Richard Hawley fares particularly badly when listened side-by-side, smothering any relevance of intent with several decades’ worth of electric guitar. Ill Manors is the sound of today – however ugly the truth might be. Let’s hope the judges can find the bravery to reward fact over artifice.

The winner of the 2012 Mercury Prize will be announced on Thursday, the 1st of November. For an overview of all the nominees, read this post.

 

Mercury Prize Shortlist 2012

 
By on Wednesday, 12th September 2012 at 6:23 pm
 

The shortlist for the Barclaycard Mercury Prize 2012 Albums of the Year were announced this evening by 6music presenter Lauren Laverne in a special ceremony at London’s Hospital Club. While some of the names on here are no surprise, with bookies predicting their odds for weeks, others seem to be a who’s who of the knife edge between mainstream and indie. And it just wouldn’t be the Mercury Prize nominations without a random jazz album mentioned. Let’s have a look at the nominees…

Not surprisingly to those in the indie blogosphere, Django Django‘s rhythmically dynamic self-titled debut received a nod. The band scored an American label contract this summer. Count on ‘Default’ and ‘Storm’ to get continued airplay all the way up to the night the winner is announced. (Read our coverage on the Djangos here.) So was alt-J‘s debut ‘An Awesome Wave’. I’m sure they expected it; why else would they have booked a tour for *next* May if they weren’t? If the sweaty club atmosphere I experienced on night 2 of the Great Escape this year seeing them (who were then followed by Django Django, I might add) is any indication, their album will be a frontrunner on many indie music fans’ lists.

Continuing with the debuts nominated, the singer/songwriter genre is well represented with entries from the female squeal-eliciting Ben Howard (‘Every Kingdom’), folk newcomer Sam Lee (‘Ground of Its Own’) and Michael Kiwanuka (‘Home Again’). Electro urban newcomer Jessie Ware, who Martin caught at Evolution, appears on the shortlist with her debut ‘Devotion’ released in mid-August. BBC Sound of 2012 nominee and Warner Brothers signee Lianne La Havas, who wowed crowds at the Great Escape and beyond, also received a nod for ‘Is Your Love Big Enough?’ If she wins the gong in November, expect cheesy headlines using the album title for full effect.

Stalwarts of the Northern music scene have been rewarded with nominations as well. The forward thinking of Sunderland indie heroes Field Music‘s ‘Plumb’ released in February 2012 and Sheffield’s bequiffed guitar bandolero Richard Hawley‘s new psychedelic direction for ‘Standing at the Sky’s Edge’ were both recognised on the shortlist this year. The honour of this year’s wild card also goes to the North, via Leeds jazz rock band Roller Trio. Their self-titled album looks, from a distance, exactly like that of Stornoway‘s ‘Beachcomber’s Windowsill’. (Not kidding. Have a look here and compare.)

The Maccabees, having returned after 3 years with new album, ‘Given to the Wild’, also appear on the list, making us seriously wonder how groundbreaking this list can be, with so many ‘safe contenders’. Plan B‘s nomination for third album ‘Ill Manors’ is less dubious, especially in light of Ben Drew’s shedding some much needed light on human trafficking in his video for ‘Deepest Shame’. Good save, committee folks.

The winner of the 2012 Mercury Prize will be announced on Thursday, the 1st of November. In addition to the ceremony itself, there will be a unique ‘Albums of the Year Live’ gig series leading up to the big event. The series will see the shortlisted artists play very intimate gigs. Access to apply for tickets to these gigs will be extremely limited and only through signing up a special mailing list for alerts on these very gigs. Each successful applicant will have access to two tickets; a £5 donation to War Child is required at the time to secure each ticket, with Barclaycard matching every donation pound for pound for their cardholders who use their card when purchasing. Go here for more information.

 

Camden Crawl 2012: Day 1 – Ben’s Roundup

 
By on Thursday, 17th May 2012 at 2:00 pm
 

Music is so deeply hewn in to the tapestry of Camden’s past that even if a rogue bulldozer were to somehow escape the Olympic park and flatten the lot, the Camden faithful would still gather on the detritus (like Kevin Costner in the film Field of Dreams) to watch the ghostly echo of gigs passed. Camden Crawl has managed to do away with wrestling the country/city festival debate that plagues the likes of Hard Rock Calling and SW4 – those who assume the hardware set up should remain universal – by setting up in the across the attics, backrooms and great halls of this cultural nucleus. Since 1995 this festival has showcased the best of the new alternative scene, and this year is set to kick off the festival season with more than 100 artists across 27 venues.

If there’s a better way to kick off a festival than staring down the barrel of two trombones and a trumpet, then I don’t want to know about it. North London eight piece ska punks Imperial Leisure bring a touch of Madness to the opening bout of Camden Crawl 2012 shoehorned, like jostling commuters, on to the wooden floorboards of the archetypal Wheelbarrow pub. As afro sporting singer Denis Smith leers over the baying home crowd, they blast through the likes of ‘Bitter and Twisted’, ‘Landlord’s Daughter’ and ‘Man on the Street’ at a frenetic pace and set an almost unsurpassable benchmark for interaction and tempo.

On the way through the assault course that is tourist dodging up Camden Road to the hallowed turf of the Roundhouse, Hip-Hop Shakespeare have taken to the stage in the cool blue oasis of the Jazz Cafe. With razor sharp wit and tongue, MCs and poets alike take to the stage with the house band to recite their works and challenge the stigma surrounding hip hop as an inferior art form.

At the Roundhouse, the enigmatic Sam Lee has taken charge of the mezzanine and roof space to claim in it in the name of folk for the day. He regales the cross legged crowd with old folk tales before introducing the quintessentially English but bright and almost painfully innocent melodies of Magic Lantern. He then returns with his own modest troupe of eclectic musicians to tell stories and sing, choral and otherwise, to the appreciative gathering. It is an achievement that all festivals should strive for, where for a moment or more people experience the universality of musical and social understanding.

The greyish afternoon sun begins to dip towards the rooftops behind the indoor stage as people are ushered out on to the terrace for Melodica, Melody and Me. Close your eyes and this could be the Champs-Élysées, with people milling and reclining on the steps as the melodica strikes up. Tracks like ‘Hold On’, ‘Ode to Victor Jara’ and ‘Plunge’ are lyrically modern but classic in style, given a Hawaiian twist with the omnipresent (so much so that I’ve already missed a few) ukulele, and despite the dropping temperatures the wax jacket parade has turned out in force.

Pint-size French synthpop three piece We Were Evergreen will surely be one to watch this summer and, having come on in place of Atlantics at the Wheelbarrow earlier in the day, anticipation was growing to see how they would manage a full set at the Roundhouse. Band members Fabienne, Michael and William work independently as masters of their instrument sets – be it guitar and vocal loops, ukulele and banjo, or synth and glockenspiel – to produce a sound with the same good time vibe as the Ting Tings on tracks such as ‘Baby Blue’ or the infectious ‘Eggs’.

Back in the centre of Camden at the Black Head, and Antlered Man are laying down their own crunching brand of hypnotic metal through a loudspeaker to a packed upstairs, whilst round the corner at Underworld post rock instrumentalists Brontide are nailing a precision piece of musical hardware to the largest and loudest crowd yet gathered. In this dingy basement layers build on loop pedals in time with a surge in energy levels, driven by the relentless crash of ex-La Roux drummer Will Bowerman’s sticks.

Hindsight is a wondrous thing, a precious commodity that is lacking as band of the moment Big Pink took to the stage as only second headliners under the shimmering beams of Koko’s mammoth mirror ball. The atmosphere has gained a synaesthetic sheen to match the soundscape of this peculiarly appropriate line up; now the sound has the power to reverberate through chest cavities, and there’s enough dry ice to Beadle’s About a house fire. It is their first time in London, and with material from their acclaimed debut ‘A Brief History of Love’, as well as tracks from 2012 release ‘Future This’ such as ‘Hit the Ground’ and ‘Rubbernecking’, had the audience blown away. And, while lead singer Robbie Furze intermittently sounds like Richard Ashcroft in space, floor filler ‘Dominos’ has every pair of hands up.

Rounding off Saturday of Camden Crawl 2012 are a band who stand out on the bill as somewhat mainstream, even slightly ‘one hit wonder’ for a headline slot. It is an absolute joy to find that the proverbial ‘tip of the iceberg’ saying rings true and that ‘Hounds of Love’ was merely a marketable peak the PR team let puncture the surface of the Futureheads’ (pictured at top) early career. Below is a hulking mass of traditional folk music done as nature intended, through multi-layered harmonies and classic acoustic instrumentation. There is the oldest song in the English language, ‘Sumer Is I’cumen In’ (the one Edward Woodward is chargrilled to in ‘The Wickerman’) and ‘The Machem’ before the crowd start to lose their nerve and begin an unfortunate smattering of boos and (ironically) a capella versions of ‘Hounds of Love’. But, with an a capella album of their very own to flog in the coming months, the Futureheads continue unperturbed and round off the Saturday admirably with a more inventive, acoustic version of their biggest hit. This appeases the now swaying crowd, who leave with both cheers, and murmurs of anticipation for what Sunday could hold.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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