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Mercury Prize 2013 shortlist is announced: who are the chosen ones?

Posted at 6:30 pm, September 11, 2013 in Music & Nightlife
Mercury Music Prize nominations

The shortlist for the 2013 Barclaycard Mercury Prize was announced today, and Time Out are feeling rather smug about things, having predicted 7 of the 12 albums that would appear. We’re especially happy to see electronic innovator Jon Hopkins, searing post-punkers Savages, the mighty Arctic Monkeys and the even mightier David Bowie on the list, as well as Time Out’s own favourites to take the prize, garage-lovin’ dance music brothers Disclosure.

The shocks are that London Grammar (the warbling three-piece who are tipped to be the next The XX) didn’t make the shortlist, having been the bookies’ favourites before the announcement. Also, this year marks a distinct change in tone for the awards, which usually include a jazz and a folk pick. Welshman Conor J O’Brien, aka Villagers, and Laura Marling are the closest to the folk scene out of the 12 nominees, while jazz isn’t represented all (bad luck Melt Yourself Down, who we thought would be getting a nod).

Shocking fact: every one of the acts whose album isn’t a debut has been nominated for the Mercury before. The panel are retreading old ground. Still, it’s a pretty solid list, especially given that 2012′s crop of nominees featured some of the UK’s dampest squibs – singer-songwriters Michael Kiwanuka and (god help us) Ben Howard. Here’s our verdict on the albums themselves, as well as the artists’ chances of winning.

Rudimental – ‘Home’
This big, grabby dance-pop album of feel-good vocals, drum and bass rhythms and straight-up homegrown Hackney production talent was one of the Time Out’s albums of the year so far, and deserves to find a place on the Mercury shortlist. Chances it’ll win the thing? Slim – not since M People has an album this blatantly poppy taken the prize.

Foals – ‘Holy Fire’
The Oxford band‘s third album was the one on which they stopped being so damned antsy, and settled into a more straightforward, yet no less enjoyable, rock groove. They grew up, in other words, and cranked out a fantastic album of driving and purposeful songs. A very worthy inclusion indeed, but we sense if any maturing indie band are going to win this year it’ll be the Arctic Monkeys.

Jon Hopkins – ‘Immunity’ 
‘An amazing achievement’ we said of Hopkins’ LP when it came out. The producer (who’s worked with Coldplay among others) previously picked up a Mercury nomination for his collaborative album with Scottish folkie King Creosote, ‘Diamond Mine’. This solo effort marks a huge leap forward for him, and for electronic music in general. Its soft moments are haunting and beautiful. Its hard moments sound like industrial accidents. Frankly we love it. It’ll take a leftfield swing from the panel for it to take the prize, however.

Laura Marling – ‘Once I was an Eagle’ 
If you went to any of Marling’s performances in an abandoned east London school as part of Secret Cinema’s recent gigs project, you’ll know just how special a singer-songwriter Marling has become now she’s reached the ripe old age of 23. This suite of lyrically complex and emotionally rewarding songs shows the west London folk talent getting steadily better and better. She’s got a decent chance of winning.

Laura Mvula – ‘Sing To The Moon’ 
Channeling the spirit of Nina Simone, Laura Mvula’s debut offers deep and raw, yet quirky and curious songwriting that transcends the norm. Single ‘Green Garden’ is a good starting point – a swinging, tinkling, hand-clappin’ stomper that grabs the heartstrings as it sets your toes jiggling. In short, we like her. Will they give her the award? Probably not.

Arctic Monkeys – ‘AM’
There’s been talk that the Arctics’ fifth LP is not only their sexiest, but also their best. Alex Turner and company are slicker than ever, and have slathered more than a small amount of sleaze from their newly adopted hometown, LA, onto the record. ‘AM’ sounds huge, and it puts the band into a new league of legendary rockers. Sure, they won the Mercury with the very first record (who remembers chirpy, mop-topped Turner exclaiming, ‘Richard Hawley’s been robbed’?) and, frankly, there wouldn’t be too many complaints if they pilfered it again. A very strong contender.

David Bowie – ‘The Next Day’
It was a pleasant surprise, to put it mildly, when Big Dave released a surprise new album. It was an ever pleasanter surprise when it turned out to be one the records of the year. There’s not much we can say about ‘The Next Day’ other than that it’s a masterpiece. It won’t win the Mercury, just because Bowie doesn’t need it.

Disclosure – ‘Settle’
Guy and Howard Lawrence are Time Out’s tips to win the Mercury 2013. ‘Settle’ is a thumping, clever, collaborative monster of a record that is made all the more incredible by how young they are (Guy’s 21, Howard’s 18). It features garage revivalism, mixed with dubstep heaviness, mixed with fidgety house, and is simply is the sound of now. Quick – get down William Hill.

Jake Bugg – ‘Jake Bugg’
It had to happen. We might quibble slightly at Bugg’s inclusion, but the young man from Nottingham really did stage quite a coup when his debut snatched the album charts top spot away from Leona Lewis. Influenced by Dylan, The Beatles and Johnny Cash, his sound is firmly stuck in the past. We don’t begrudge him his nomination, but we’re going to stick our necks out and say he’s a rank outsider to win.

James Blake – ‘Overgrown’
He once was the sensitive face (and voice) of the dubstep scene. Now he’s a proper songwriter. Blake’s dad (also a musician) told the talented, piano-playing youngster to write some of his own material after Blake nicked his lyrics for debut album track ‘The Wilhelm Scream’. This second effort has got a bit more of Blake himself on it, and it’s all the better for it. It doesn’t stand much chance of taking the prize, just because the competition is so damn good.

Villagers – ‘{Awayland}’
We felt more than a little sleepy listening to Conor J. O’Brien’s second album of charming Welsh folkisms. The stories on his debut had kept us gripped. This set of material sent us under the duvet faster than you can say ‘Milky Horlicks’. It’s doesn’t stand much chance of winning.

Savages – ‘Silence Yourself’
If any debut album has the guts and the energy to rival Disclosure, it’s this blinder from Jehnny Beth and her all-female post-punk stage slayers, Savages. ‘Aggressive’ doesn’t quite do justice to these 11 tracks of urgent drums, howling guitars and teeth-gritting purposeful lyrics. This record could definitely walk away with the award, and it would be deserved, too.

Check out who we thought were dead certs (and who we really wanted) to make this year’s shortlist here. Let us know who you think will walk away with the prize in the comment box below or tweet us at @TimeOutMusic.

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