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Mercury Music Prize 2012: 12 UK Albums of the Year

Updated on February 14, 2015

Nominees for 2012

The Mercury Music Prize short list always consists of 12 albums covering a range of genres released in the last 12 months. The choices are always controversial and winner, selected by the judging panel, usually unpredictable. This year's choices include rap, prog-rock, soul, traditional folk and modern jazz.

Here's a rundown on the contenders for 2012.

Plan B - Ill Manors

UK rapper, actor and film director Ben Drew’s second number one album and soundtrack to his debut film as a director is a chilling sequence of hip-hop, spoken word and haunting instrumentals which tell the tales of the broken, desperate and shady characters from the film. Crime, recession and corrupt government underpin a dysfunctional society that exists in the shadows. As Dizzy Rascal stands on a podium doing a Glee performance at the Olympic Opening Ceremony, Plan b is on an upturned crate in a back street telling of the pain of an underclass cast adrift in Cameron’s broken Britain. Takura, Labrinth and veteran performance poet John Cooper Clarke guest on this musical, lyrical masterpiece.

Richard Hawley - Standing at the Sky's Edge

Richard Hawley’s seventh studio album is the kind of multi-layered album that often impresses the Mercury judging panel. After an explosion of rock tinged with Indian folk on the opening track Love’s Dart ‘She Brings the Sunlight’ Hawley becomes more ernest with his listeners. ‘Joseph was a good man but he killed his wife’ he announces solemnly over a minimalist and sinister backing reminiscent of Nick Cave’s ‘Murder Ballads’ on the title track. The album veers between electrifying songs like ‘Down In The Woods’ and slower reflective pieces like ‘Don’t Stare At The Sun.’ This album secures Richard Hawley's place as on of the country's outstanding singer-song writers.

Django Django - Django Django

Django Django is a somewhat confusing mix of blues, electronic, Krautrock and African influences but it has some nice moments like the vocal harmonising over Spaghetti Western backing track on Love’s Dart and nu-wave closer Silver Rays. This is a psychedelic desert trek on three-humped camels!

Alt-J - An Awesome Wave

Dreamy melodies, experimental vocals and mesmerising lullabies combine on this debut from the Leeds quartet. Odds are 5/1 of it winning the Mercury but what were the odds of an album that includes the lyrics ‘tra-la-la’ being nominated? The refrain is used creatively on Fitzpeasure, one of the more upbeat songs on this mellow collection from an innovative group with a lot of promise.

Jessie Ware - Devotion

Jessie Ware’s seductive vocals captivate listeners in this well crafted album. From chill out drum and bass opening of Devotion through to 80s electro pop on Running and the more mature cello driven night light. This is a singer with depth and personality with an album that deserves to be singled out in the crowded market of divas and songstresses.

Ben Howard - Every Kingdom

Everyone is bound to be moved by at least one song on this album of acoustic folk/pop. For me it was rich crescendo of instruments and emotions on Promise. This is a multi textured album from a talented singer and instrumentalist. The album moves from dreamy to upbeat with energetic full band accompaniment and backing vocals on Keep Your Head Up. The following Black Flies returns to a more simple delicate arrangement of guitar and strings and a darker mood. The album ends more positive and reflective with rich strings and Howard’s intricate guitar playing, present throughout the album, on I Will Be Blessed. Live track, Move Like You Want is a rousing encore to round things off.

Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again

Soul, pure soul. This recording has all the richness, passion and energy of classic Motown. Michael’s singing is heartfelt and never over stated. The music, lyrics, production even album cover hark back to an era before the singer was born. Michael lovingly performs the music he holds dear.

Lianne La Havas - Is Your Love Big Enough?

Another entry in the soul category, Is Your Love Big Enough? covers a broader palette. Opening with a rousing a cappella intro on Don’t Wake Me Up the following title track is a darker shade of funk. She teams up with Willy Mason on No Room For Doubt and Age is a timeless blues number with simple blues guitar accompaniment. A smooth and varied collection of Gospel and Soul.

Field Music - Plumb

A multi-genre jam fest jumping between prog-rock, funk, jazz and psychedelia. This album needs several listens to get used to its twists and turns and revel in the beauty within the chaos. A nomination which may confuse or impress the judges with its distinctive sound.

Roller Trio - Roller Trio

Hitting play on Roller Trio’s eponymous album feels like walking into a jazz club in full swing. No gentle warm-up, the sax blurts out a wild solo, then comes wonky bass and finally crashing percussion joins the fray. Roller Trio are in full effect. The three young musicians make a lot of noise but there are quieter chilled out moments like the Indian infused Roller Toaster. The band pull wild tricks on their instruments and make occasional use of electronics keeping modern jazz modern. They follow in the footsteps of previous nominees Polar Bear and Portico Quartet.

The Maccabees - Given to the Wild

Delicately crafted wispy melodic pop reaches stadium filling strength on The Maccabees third album. Anthemic indie pop that will appeal to fans of Coldplay, U2 and Snow Patrol.

Sam Lee - Ground of its Own

A traditional English folk album with modern embellishments. Bird song interjects on Tan Yard Slide, the hang echoes throughout Northlands but it’s the lyrics and rich vocal talent that make this album. The modern production could have detracted from these natural qualities but it works well from the start. A collection of songs that follows in a fine tradition and adds something new. This is an album that could come from the sidelines and take the prize.

I've enjoyed listening to these albums. They brought me into contact with music and artists I would not otherwise have listened to, and I'll certainly be listening to some of the artists more in the future.

The shortlist is full of worthy contenders for the Mercury Music Prize to be announced in November. All the albums are fine examples of the genres they represent and listening to them all is a rewarding journey through the rich and varied music being produced in the UK today.

Feel free to share your opinion of the Mercury Music Prize nominations below.


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