To many in the industry, the Mercury Award is the most prestigious in music. Viewed, as crowning the most creative album of the year, it often rewards an overlooked artist with the credit many feel they deserve. There are numerous traditions surrounding this award though, few are nominated more than once and even fewer win it more than once; it often finds its way in to the hands of a smaller artists, whose great work didn’t achieve notable commercial success. Without being too harshly critical on an album with a lot of merit, it feels as though James Blake was a stereotypical recipient of this award. A man nominated once before but falling short, it seemed as though this was his time.
This year’s list was very strong featuring huge names like the: Arctic Monkeys (nominated twice before winning once), David Bowie, and high selling units like Foals’ ‘Holy Fire’ and Jake Bugg’s debut.
James Blake’s ‘Overgrown’ is a forward thinking LP, rooted in chilled house music, the clean-cut production adds a strange sense of silence beneath the beats at the forefront. The Album sounds cold and clinical but at the same time heartfelt and deep. The frosty nature of the production adds to the sense of sincerity and thus disconnection. However, I do not think this was the best record of the past 12 months. There have been many great albums released, several of which I have fallen utterly in love with, my personal favourite being Arctic Monkeys most recent release. ‘AM’ to me, is the masterpiece in their Quintet, a wonderfully innovative and magnificent mangled myriad of genres, however it isn’t the album I would have picked to win.
2013’s jewel in the crown so to speak, is Foals’ absolutely masterful ‘Holy Fire’.
From the humble beginnings of their Math-rock rooted debut ‘Antidotes’ they moved to the magnificent soundscapes, rhythms, and beautiful vocals of ‘Total Life Forever’, which garnered them even more attention. Upon the release of ‘Holy Fire’ the hype had reached fever pitch and the band of Oxford drop outs certainly didn’t disappoint. A record of squalling, heavy riffs, stunning rhythm sections, outstanding hooks and absolute anthems destined to be ‘mainstays’ on the dance floors of indie discos everywhere. From the obscure artistry of the vocals on ‘Prelude’ that seemingly disappear just like the bees they are talking about; to the powerful vocals of the absolutely stunning ‘Late Night’, via the muscular carnality of ‘Inhaler’ and the unashamedly disco nature of ‘My Number’ (seriously, this song is impossible to resist dancing to) this is the album of the year. It doesn’t have a conventional indie formula and it doesn’t subscribe to the rules. It finds its own route to greatness, becoming a wild, solitary and an untameable beast, on the live scene the rhythms are explored in even more depth, which actually adds to the quality of the album.
Now unfortunately this album didn’t win, and without being harsh on any of the other records on the list it can probably be put down to the fact that it isn’t viewed as the ‘sound of 2013’, the sound of 2013 is post-house, chilled beats produced from a laptop, something that seems easily accessible to all. Maybe in any other year this would have triumphed.
Written by Ben McBride