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…

Review: Too much Tunng in Cheek Mountain Thief

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TUNNG member Mike Lindsay’s side project Cheek Mountain Thief is an album born from love.
So the story goes, he first fell in love with a girl, lost touch with the girl, found her again in her native home of Iceland, fell in love with her home town, and eventually built a makeshift studio there to record an album harnessing all this swirling emotion.
And the album does start off in a pretty lovely way, with touchstones of Mum, Efterklang and Sweet Billy Pilgrim influencing the folktronic proceedings.
But for all it’s Icelandic-inspired feel, as the album lilts along, it drifts into more trad folk territory and for me doesn’t really find its place – it’s neither here, nor there.
It’s not upbeat enough to sit alongside Tunng et al or experimental enough in the Icelandic tradition, yet it’s not trad English enough to fall into Lau or Lakeman territory.
It’s a bit like stepping away from a girl you love and then settling for another partner that looks very similar, if you squint a bit or take her to poorly-lit places on dates.
I like it, but it’s not love – in short, buy a Tunng CD.

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.