Well, I didn't get anything right in my prediction of what would be nominated this year. I can't believe I forgot The XX, one of my favorite albums of last year, which has emerged as the favorite in this year's Mercury Prize contest. Of course that means it won't win--the "frontrunner" never does.
As usual, there are a lot of surprises here and bands I hadn't heard of. It was just yesterday thought that I was listening to I Am Kloot for the first time and thinking they were pretty good, so it was cool to see them here. I'm surprised Dizzee Rascal showed up, since Tongue N Cheek represents a pretty mainstream turn for the British rapper.
In the interest of, um, research, I just snapped up 5 of the nominees (in addition to the 2 I already had). So far, I'm really enjoying them. Here's a brief rundown:
Biffy Clyro - Only Revolutions. This is the fifth album and first nomination for Scottish band Biffy Clyro. It's a fairly successful album, having scored four top 40 singles, including top 10 hit "That Golden Rule" and the rather gorgeous, dramatic song "Many of Horror," which I happen to really love with its big strings and guitars. Don't have this album, but I'd be open to getting it or least hearing more of it at some point. Check out: "Many of Horror."
Corinne Bailey Rae - The Sea. This is the second album and first nomination for the English singer, who drew on the emotions surrounding her husband's death to record this lush, soulful work. I didn't expect her to be nominated, but I love this album, so it's nice to see the recognition for the singer, best known for her hit "Put Your Records On" (not from this album). Check out: "I'd Do It All Again."
Dizzee Rascal - Tongue N Cheek. Well, this is a first for the Mercury Prize: a nominee that includes three #1 hits. Not the norm for an award that generally champions lesser-known works. Of course Rascal was a bit under the radar until he decided to embrace dance music a couple of years ago, resulting in him being catapulted from indie-darling rapper to mainstream-hitmaking rapper. So famous is he that he recently scored his fourth #1 hit singing a World Cup ra-ra for England. This is Rascal's fourth album and third to score a Mercury nod; his first, Boy in Da Corner, won the award in 2003. Check out: "Holiday."
Kit Downes Trio - Golden. It's cool that the Mercury Prize often finds room for a jazz nominee. This year its British jazz pianist Kit Downes, performing here with his trio of Calum Gourlay on bass and James Maddren on drums. This is Downes' first album and nomination. Check out: "A Dance Took Place."
Foals - Total Life Forever. This is the second album and first nomination for Oxford, England's Foals. Total Life Forever is a great album. I considered reviewing it last month, and perhaps now I'll go ahead and do so. This is earnest indie rock with lovely, often soaring melodies. Check out: "Spanish Sahara."
I Am Kloot - Sky at Night. Championed and produced by Guy Garvey and Craig Potter of Elbow--the band who won this award 2 years ago--I Am Kloot's fifth album was released 2 weeks ago to some pretty stellar reviews. Their melodic, acoustic approach is quite seductive. I just got this and have only heard a few tracks, but so far I'm liking it. Check out: "To the Brink."
Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can. This is the singer-songwriter's second album after 2008's Alas, I Cannot Swim, also a Mercury nominee. My first impression was that this isn't my thing, but then I listened to "Goodbye England" and thought it was really pretty. And then I listened to "Devil's Spoke" and found it appealingly dark and muscular, tinged with folksy banjo and fiddle. I didn't buy this today, but may just yet. Check out: "Devil's Spoke."
Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More. Lots to celebrate in a certain corner of British folk music, as Marling's boyfriend Marcus Mumford's band also snags a Mercury nod with their debut. This album is hot right now--it's currently #6 on the UK albums chart. They've even had a couple top 40 hits. Check out: "The Cave."
Paul Weller - Wake Up the Nation. The veteran of the pack, rocker Paul Weller (originally of The Jam) scores his second Mercury nomination for his tenth studio album. Not really my thing, but I know that has gotten a lot of acclaim. Check out: "Wake Up the Nation."
Villagers - Becoming a Jackal. This Irish five-piece is one of the least known of the nominees. Again, another one I picked up today and haven't listened to much, but sounds good so far. Check out: "Home."
Wild Beasts -Two Dancers. This is the second album from Wild Beasts, who I'd not heard of before today. This is moody indie rock with electronic touches. Another one I picked up and looking forward to exploring. Check out: "We Still Got The Taste Dancin' On Our Tongues"
The XX - XX. Love that this made the list. Gorgeously understated first album from the London-based duo. Their "Islands" is becoming something of a hit, currently on the BBC Radio 1 "B" list. Check out: "Infinity."
My (lame) prediction article
My review of The XX, XX
My review of Corinne Bailey Rae's The Sea