Mercury Music Prize 2010 shortlist – Just Played Verdict


I know that convention dictates that I start off with a sizeable rant about the MASSIVE WANKERS who decide on the Mercury shortlist and moan about how safe and, largely, shit the choice of albums is. I whine about how there are so many more deserving titles out there and wonder why they even bother doing this. Well, fuck convention.

It’s not a bad shortlist really. Could be a hell of a lot worse and there are some rather good albums on it. Yes, you can tell that almost nobody on that judging panel is medically allowed to let their blood pressure rise too dramatically and that ‘a nice glass of red’ probably accompanies all of these records rather effectively, but that doesn’t immediately make them all crap records. Just Biffy Clyro, and that was crap long before it got this nomination. Indeed, it has been crap since the hellish day that the group birthed it through the band’s collective arsehole; the result of a blessed constipation that finally subsided only to gift our ears with this limp, fetid dross.

I wasn’t exactly enraptured by the Foals album either, but it certainly has its moments. The vocals are a lot less ‘toddler with a foot stuck in a door’ and a bit more ‘artsy indie band with ridiculous hair’. The sound is a massive leap on from the frankly infuriating debut which started badly with the atrocious cover and didn’t improve much thereafter. This one is bold, adventurous and, at times at least, rather good. Also in the ‘no need to get the bunting out’ category is Corinne Bailey Rae’s ‘The Sea’. This particular record received such astonishingly positive press that it seemed like we were about to witness the second coming, albeit it at No.17 in the Asda album chart. It is quite nice. She’s stopped banging on about putting records on and is now singing about sad things because of the, admittedly tragic, loss of her husband. Musically it’s much less annoying than her MOR stylings of old but, for the life of me, I couldn’t really tell what it was that I was meant to be so overwhelmed by.

Then there’s the folk-pop boy band in waiting, Mumford And Sons. They are, as far as I’m concerned, traitorous bastards for wooing us with lovely limited 10” single releases only to then not put the album out on vinyl. Add into that the fact that they are now so ubiquitous they’re like flying ants or pollen and it’s hard to retain the early love. The songs are undeniably great and Marcus Mumford has a cracking voice. But, the production is oh-so-very polished and somewhere along the line it seemed to lose its soul a little. I’m by no means trying to be all snobby about this record; I still quite like it, but from the very first play it didn’t sound as raw it could have and should have and that’s a great shame. That said, I’m not sure it would be on this list if they’d gone down that route.

Dizzee Rascal, love him or hate him (or just laugh at him for being a bit of a cock), has produced some belting pop songs of late and such a consistent run of hits deserves recognition. Unfortunately, the album doesn’t really offer anything else to match those glorious singles and only serves to confirm that he is best in small doses. When in a good mood. And not especially bothered about what you’re listening to. A plausible choice, a maker of top pop but not an album to yearn for or fall in love with.

I’m genuinely delighted to see the marvellous I Am Kloot on the list with the recently released splendour of ‘Sky At Night’. I recently explained just why this record is deserving of a place in your collection and it is as good an album as the band have released to date. The vocals are quite beautiful and Guy Garvey’s string arrangements are superbly measured and precisely executed. As good a straight indie record as you’ll hear this year. Which briefly brings me to ‘Golden’ by Kit Downes Trio, which is potentially as good a jazz record as I haven’t heard this year. Is that the sound of a token being laid down I hear? Solitary nod to the ‘other’, I hear you cry. Well, yes. It’s not on Spotify, so I’ve not yet had the pleasure but, as I did with The Invisible last year, I’ll endeavour to have a listen. Find out what I end up thinking by following the Just Played Twitter here.

Wild Beasts’ ‘Two Dancers’ feels too old to be on this list, released as it was at the arse end of last summer but, it’s a wonderfully confident listen. By now, I’m sure you’ll know about Hayden Thorpe’s distinctive yelp, like a randy panda after a quick listen to ‘Grace’. It’s quite a voice and, while it might initially irritate, stick at it for there is much to love about ‘Two Dancers’. It took me a while to really get it, hence its absence from last year’s best of list. Unlike ‘xx’ by The xx, which rocketed up to second place in almost no time at all. It’s become a quite popular activity to criticise The xx for being trendy art-school types as a result of all of the hype they’ve received. Now, let’s briefly pause to consider why that is such a fuckwitted brainfart of an approach to this delicately grand music. They didn’t ask for the hype, it just gathered around them and, admittedly not always but sometimes, it happens for a reason. This time it was because of how good they are. The album is perfectly measured, charmingly executed and it offered something a little different towards the end of 2009, sounding quite unlike everything else released at the time. See here for my ‘40 From The Noughties’ piece about this one.

Old man Weller keeps on churning them out and, deep breath, he’s actually managed two great solo records in row. Indeed, I actually rather liked ‘As Is Now’ too, so that’s at least two and a half really. ‘Wake Up The Nation’ has been lauded as his best solo record in some quarters and has had fifty-something blokes in denim pogoing around like they don’t have mortgages, with their stomachs following soon behind. It is good, mind, and I have enjoyed great chunks of it. Initial plays felt a little like being able to hear a migraine, it was so phenomenally busy, but once you’ve adjusted to the frenetic pace of the thing, it actually shines through as a bloody decent set of songs. It firstly tells us that he has a cracking record collection, featuring plenty of southern and northern soul, and secondly that he has decided that prancing around in the street pissed with a near child on your arm and having one of the world’s shittest haircuts on your bonce doesn’t stop you from reminding people you were in The Jam. Fair play to him, I say.

Which leaves us with two. One of which, ‘Becoming A Jackal’ by Villagers, was recommended by Martin Rossiter (ex-Gene and thoroughly spiffing bloke) on Twitter a while back and I was won over almost instantly. I somehow missed the Later… performance that, apparently, turned most people in this record’s direction. I can see where the Rufus Wainwright comparisons come from, stylistically if not vocally, along with faint echoes of Simon and Garfunkel. It’s clever, melodic, sometimes melancholy singer-songwriter indie and it is executed to perfection. It’s a grower, a charmer and a winner. Though probably not of the Mercury Music Prize.

Not that I actually think that the quite divine Miss Marling will carry off the crown. I can’t help wondering if it will actually go the way of The xx or Mumford in the end, but that doesn’t stop this remarkable record being something to celebrate, shout about and buy in copious quantities for loved ones and friends. I’ve previously explored just what makes this such a mature and beguiling collection of songs, but suffice to say my opinion hasn’t changed, save to like it just a little bit more still. ‘Rambling Man’ is Joni, and Mazzy Star and Laura Veirs and oh so many other magical musicians rolled into one and yet still topped by a unique and stirring voice. She is a rare, rare talent and someone to be truly treasured.

Personally, I’m in a three way split with I Am Kloot, The xx and Laura Marling but, were I required to dish it out myself right now, I’d hand it to Laura. However, when the near paralytic Jools Holland steps up to the microphone in September, don’t be surprised if he utters the words, “and the winner is… The xx.”

2010 inverted

The Mercury’s in retrograde

Bat for LashesTwo Suns

Florence & The MachineLungs

Friendly FiresFriendly Fires

KasabianWest Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum

La RouxLa Roux

The HorrorsPrimary Colours


Led BibSensible Shoes

Lisa HanniganSea Sew

Speech DebelleSpeech Therapy

Sweet Billy Pilgrim Twice Born Men

The InvisibleThe Invisible

Hmm. Nope, it’s not the answer to the question, “what’s just been added to HMV‘s never ending 2 for £10 offer then?” It is, though I’m struggling to quite grasp it, this year’s Mercury Music Prize nominations list. I know that the labels have to submit albums for it (and pay a small entrance fee) but surely things aren’t so screwed up in the music industry that most of the best albums of the last twelve months haven’t been put forward. In which case, how do we end up with the above list? Fuck knows. The Kasabian album has its moments, but I’m not finding myself playing it all that regularly. The Friendly Fires record sounds like Cut Copy and Passion Pit falling down the stairs, out of time with each other. Glasvegas have been confirmed as one-trick ponies with their recent swathes of shite cover versions, all of them based on the premise that a droning guitar noise and a halved BPM equals genius. Rather than just a shite Glasvegas cover version. Did you catch their version of ‘Be My Baby’ from T In The Park? No? Lucky bastard!

La Roux have come up with a couple of decent tunes, including one truly great one, but the album itself is nothing to write home about. I didn’t think anyone still took The Horrors seriously, particularly after listening to their seemingly music-less remix of a track off the new Manics album. The Florence & The Machine bubble will be long burst by the time the winner is announced and we’ll have moved on to another slightly out of tune, kooky young thing. File under Ida Maria. Lisa Hannigan’s music is nice. And that’s the problem, I suppose. Who ever gets remembered for sounding nice? Speech Debelle I’m curious about, but I don’t get the impression that she’s achieved greatness just yet. I do like the Bat For Lashes album, and I suspect it will grow on me more over the year and it might even make the longish end of the year list. So, I suppose I’ll grant them that one. But just that one. I’ve only recently flogged a previous Sweet Billy Pilgrim album on Amazon Marketplace that didn’t do much for me. To be fair, when it comes to the new one, the music does, at least, sound quite interesting and I’ll cautiously reserve judgement, because it’s the kind of music I do sometimes just ‘click’ with, but for now it’s nothing much more than ‘interesting’.

Have you got your jazz token? Here it is, in the shape of Led Bib’s latest record. Meh. And finally, one of the few I’d not previously heard, but which I’m now considering getting as a result of the iTunes samples, ‘The Invisible’ by The Invisible. Slightly squelch electronic music with bits of shoegaze. It’s not an original mix, but it works quite nicely. I’ve read TV On The Radio comparisons whilst doing my research, which have some truth in them. The vocals don’t do much for me, but there’s something interesting going on musically.

I should say that I do applaud the appearance on the list of a couple of pretty new and unhyped acts that do deserve some recognition, but taken as a whole, it’s a list the doesn’t really inspire. Now, I’ve bunged together suggestions for an alternative list and, while I can’t claim any points for obscurist choices, I do think it’s not a bad selection of records. I did only spend a few minutes putting it together and I’m sure I’ve missed off some really obvious, really brilliant records but for now, those twelve songs represent twelve albums that I reckon are pretty bloody good. That list – in a sample it for free form – is available here.

Mixtape…blah, blah, nostalgia, blah…

I was about to start with a profound and incisive statement, but that new Bloc Party single really is fucking dreadful, isn’t it?

I’ve spent a thoroughly enjoyable day rearranging bits of the record collection and ripping assorted tracks to the computer in order to refresh the content of my mp3 player and contruct a decent mp3 CD for a long car journey that’s coming up. It’s wonderful just browsing through the tunes that have, at various times in the last few years, meant rather a lot to me. I did the slightly embarrassing, but hugely popular, swivelling-a-little-bit-in-a-computer-chair dance to Stardust‘s Music Sounds Better With You‘ earlier and it was hugely satisfying. And what about ‘Forever J’ by Terry Hall? A beautiful, beautiful song which was sampled on ‘Life In Mono’ by Mono, which I’ve also ended up digging out. However, whilst finding out more about it I stumbled upon the Emma Bunton cover version. Eugh. Now, I actually really liked that soul-pastiche album she did a few years back. The one with pink cover. But this is not good. At all. The original is, however, and it would seem you can still buy it via the iTunes empire.

The mp3 player will soon be receiving a number of albums that I can’t believe I haven’t felt the need to put back on there since reformatting it a few months back. Most of Supergrass‘ back catalogue is still absent, as are the first two Portishead albums and Thom Yorke‘s ‘The Eraser’. Not for much longer. Also going on will be Madness‘ wonderful track, ‘NW5‘ that came out as a one-off single a little while back, but which will feature on their forthcoming concept album, ‘The Liberty Of Norton Folgate’. If you’ve not heard it, I would put it up there with pretty much anything else they’ve ever done. It’s great.

And with that cunning link (that’s great and so is this) I should probably say a few words about the Jamie Lidell record I was on about the other day. Gilles Peterson has started offering a splendid service via TellJack that allows you to hear albums, in full, before deciding whether or not to purchase. You don’t download anything, it’s all done via high quality streams, but it’s splendid. That’s how I got to hear ‘Jim‘, by Jamie Lidell. I keep calling it ‘Son of Stevie’ because it sounds like that sort of record Stevie Wonder would be making now if he was a) younger and b) as good as he used to be. To me, this album slots in quite neatly alongside ‘Innervisions‘ and ‘Talking Book’. High praise, I know, but it really is the best soul album I’ve heard in yonks. And, I’ve heard Sharon Jones and the new Al Green. Anyway, there’s a track on the newly updated Mux (click on the tape in the right-hand column) along with a chance to hear the Terry Hall track ‘Forever J’ and the Mono track that sampled it. Plus other stuff. Stuff you’ll like, I’d imagine.

I remember now what it was that I was going to talk about when I was going on about mp3 compilations. I was listening to Jeremy Vine‘s show on Radio 2 yesterday (the outraged voice of middle class Britain©) as he discussed the possible charges for broadband customers in the UK. Apparently, devious downloaders will be receiving angry letters in the near future, explaining that what they’re up to is illegal. Assuming, of course, that they are downloading illegally, that is. They wouldn’t make any mistakes, would they? Judging by some of the calls to the programme, mistakes have already been made and there will be more on the way. Predictably, one of the ‘I ain’t paying for it, why should I? I’ve ten CDs over the last twenty years and they were, like, £16 each, so why should I pay now?’ brigade got on air. I’ve never really had a strong opinion about it one way or another, but with the number of independent record stores dying on their arses and bands failing to keep hold of their record contracts, you do have to wonder. Ok, so it’s a symptom of a jaded industry, rather than the cause, but surely nobody who loves their tunes thinks it’s a long-term approach? Weirdly, I’ve just noticed that the good folks at Norman Records are having a similar debate on their blog.

And finally, the nominations for the Mercury Music Prize came out t’other day and I was amazed by just how many I’ve actually heard and liked. The list is as follows:

Adele – ‘19
British Sea Power‘Do You Like Rock Music?
Burial – ‘Untrue
Elbow‘The Seldom Seen Kid’
Estelle – ‘Shine
Laura Marling‘Alas I Cannot Swim’
Neon Neon‘Stainless Style’
Portico Quartet‘Knee-Deep In The North Sea’
Rachel Unthank & The Winterset‘The Bairns’
Radiohead‘In Rainbows’
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss‘Raising Sand’
The Last Shadow Puppets‘The Age Of The Understatement’

It’s only Portico Quartet that I need to do any real research for – and I will, I’m sure. I can’t think of a time when I’ve been so in line with the Mercury choices. It could just be that I’ve bought far too many records recently, and therefore whatever they’d gone for I’d have been in this position, but I’d like to think not. From my perspective, it’s got to be between Elbow, Laura Marling and Radiohead. Radiohead are getting a bit of negativity thrown their way regarding this because of how established they are, but ‘In Rainbows’ really is one of their best albums and definitely one of the best albums of the last twelve months. Laura Marling is someone that I’ve raved about on here for almost a year now and I certainly don’t intend on stopping. ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’ will be in my end of the year list and it’s a near-perfect folk-pop album. It’s an exercise in measured understatement, and it’s all the more beautiful because of that. However, I think it should probably go to Elbow. They went off, not in possession of a record deal, and did it all themselves; recording a record that they would want to listen to. It’s a wonderful, wonderful collection of songs and ‘One Day Like This’ could well end up as one of my all time favourite songs.

Any thoughts? Perhaps the blog will get spammed again by the vinyl collectors of Idaho. (See comments for previous post) I’m with Neil Hannon on Idaho.

Like I said, have a listen to the Muxtape.

It was the first game of the Rugby World Cup. Did you really expect me to be here?

The Bat For Lashes album was waiting for me when I got in yesterday and I already feel a little slack for not having explored it sooner. The performance at the Mercury awards was fantastic, almost bettering the quite sublime offering from Maps, and led to an almost immediate purchase from the very reasonable, Action Records. Having shouted myself hoarse supporting the Argentine underdogs last night I’ve finally had a chance to listen to it this morning and it’s actually better and more consistent than I’d hoped it would be. Something about the fragile, haunting live track made me suspect that such aural claustrophobia wouldn’t translate to a full album, but it never relents.
I was rather delighted to be reminded of Mazzy Star by ‘Seal Jubilee‘, while the inevitable Bjork comparisons are no less than accurate, although it’s definitely early Bjork. Not sure when I last listened to ‘Volta‘, but I feel like it’s something I have to mentally prepare myself for. I’m a sucker for the piano, and similar more bizarrely named instruments on records, and ‘Fur and Gold‘ has plenty of it. I can same with some certainty that this is one that will be played regularly here, and for once the Mercury has done something good. Obviously it still gave the award to The Klaxons, to ensure that people aren’t too satisfied, but a C+ for effort.
The good folk at Norm have come good on the vinyl of ‘BFI‘ by The Dragons, finally. There’s a great deal of muttering going on about this record on the interweb. A surf-psych/funk/soul record recorded 37 years ago and then abandoned due to the lack of ‘a hit’ is the official line from Ninja Tune. Seems perfectly plausible to me, but certain know-it-alls are claiming that it sounds too ‘clean’ to have been made back then. Who knows, eh? All I can say for certain is that it sounds great and is worth ten of your earth pounds.
Finally, I’ve just finished playing the new Misty’s Big Adventure 7″. Oh, how I love this band. ‘I Can’t Bring The Time Back‘ is a slightly less ‘kitchen-sink’ pop nugget, but the real gem is on the flipside. ‘Serious Thing‘ is a pounding little beast of a tune that is the most ballsy thing they’ve done to date. Well worth hunting down on Club Fandango records.
Hmmm. Time for more rugby methinks.

Live and interactive

A brief initial post in which I point out that I would love Maps to win the Mercury tonight. Of course, if James (Maps) Chapman is the winner now I’m going to be annoyed that I put no money on it. Still, it’s a wonderful album and if you don’t own it yet, then you really need to sort yourself out.
Anyhoo, this post will be contiuned later with reaction to the event.
It’s ‘live’ on BBC4 from 9pm.
Well, The View were shite, as was Jamie T and that old Rascal. The Young Knives had a certain charm, although they were a little nervy, and New Young Pony Club went from a band I’d wanted to investigate to the ‘not bothering with them’ list. The Maps performance just edged it for me, although La Maison du Vin did a wonderful job of putting the attention back on the music and the Bat For Lashes album has just been purchased. Neat little performance from Glasto by the Arctics, while Klaxons were somewhat wonky as is always the risk with so much in the high-notes range – sounds a bit better on record. Basquiat Strings weren’t all playing the same song, to my knowledge and Fionn Regan conducted himself with a fragile majesty.
And the winner is…
(God, Jools is a knob!)
The Klaxons!
What the fuck happened there then? Just goes to show that the Mercury is the most bizarre music prize in the world. Bear in mind that in the past they did give it to M People. The Klaxons are crying on stage. Awww. Couple of decent songs lads, but do they really deserve this?
Ah well, good exposure for Maps and I’ve found a nice album from Bat For Lashes. Night all.