Opinion: Disappointing Mercury Prize 2013 trying too hard

“TOKEN jazz, token folk, seven similar indie bands, two female singers, a ‘surprise’ pop inclusion; no electronica, no metal.”
That was my cynical, withering Mercury Prize 2013 shortlist prediction Tweet earlier today, followed closely by “I hope I’m wrong.”
Turned out I was wrong – but I’m not happy about it.
Because this year’s Mercury Prize could be the heaviest weighting towards electronic music yet – James Blake, Disclosure, and Jon Hopkins line-up alongside the more likely guitar-slinging lads like Arctic Monkeys, Foals, Jake Bugg etc.
But to me, this is a deliberate ploy towards electonica tokenism – an attempt to tackle one of the prize’s biggest criticisms, of the genre being overlooked.
This despite the fact that the likes of 4Hero, The Prodigy, Roni Size, Portishead, La Roux, Hot Chip etc have all featured before.
Now the relative glut of knob-twiddlers in 2013 this has left not room on the shortlist for the oft-ridiculed token jazz record, and token folk record.
Where are Lau? Or Melt Yourself Down?
One of the best things about this award is that it heralds the unheralded.
Elbow weren’t unknown when they won, but they were severely underrated – is David Bowie in their position right now, for instance?
And the unknown likes of Sweet Billy Pilgrim, or Polar Bear, or Portico Quartet would have been missed by so many people who now love these acts, were it not for their nominations – whereas the folkier acts this year, the likes of Villagers and Laura Marling, aren’t exactly under the radar.
It all leads to one of the most disappointing shortlists that I can remember.
And don’t get me started on their approach to metal music…

View: Mercurial talents of Alt-J deservedly rewarded

AS LITTLE as my opinion is worth – pretty much nothing next to the £20,000 Mercury Prize money – allow me a moment to pay testament to Alt-J’s An Awesome Wave.
The group were bookies favourites and last night they did pick up the 20th Mercury Prize for their debut – thanking their parents for “not making us get jobs” and promising to take them out for dinner.
Now I have voiced criticisms of the competition before, of tokenism and of complete ignorance of certain genres, but there is no disputing that An Awesome Wave is head and shoulders above nearly everything else released this year, and the Mercury got it spot on.
It’s a hypnotic, shifting, engaging, inventive, stimulating concoction, which sees a band rising above songwriting templates to create something which is hard to tire of – it’s the album of 2012 that I keep coming back to.
It says it all that even the band admit to loving their own work – singer and guitarist Joe Newman said: “I like listening to it and I think that is a testament to it.”
Hear hear.

Review: Sweet Billy Pilgrim just got sweeter

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AFTER a smattering of disappointed reviews so far for the new-look Sound Advice site I am delighted, absolutely over the moon, to be able to bring you an album that’s actually well worth a listen.
Phew, as they say.
Remember folky act Sweet Billy Pilgrim and their critically-acclaimed and award-nominated breakthrough album, 2009’s Twice Born Men?
Well I’m pleased to report they’ve not sustained Mercury poisoning, they’ve spent the past three years making its sound even sweeter.
If you’re familiar with their previous work you’ll know they are never going to be an in your face sound, but their forthcoming LP Crown And Treaty is certainly less timid than before.
Their delicate folk sound has unfurled on this, expanding to touch upon elements of rock, of grand orchestral pop and of electronica, and much more besides.
Throughout the record they meander through a myriad of sounds, resulting in some spectacular musical vistas – the skittering drumbeat and picked melody of Archaeology, the intertwining vocal harmonies of Shadow Captain, the driving electronic flecks sprinkled throughout in Brugada, who knows what the listener will stumble upon next?
Crown And Treaty, it’s a right royal treat.