These 12 British albums deserve a Mercury Prize, too

Proof that there’s more to the U.K. than Brexit.

July 25, 2019
These 12 British albums deserve a Mercury Prize, too Blood Orange (L) and Tirzah.   Nick Harwood/ Clare Shilland

The nominees for this year’s Mercury Prize were announced in London on Thursday morning, and the 12 albums up for contention could all suitably soundtrack a declining nation where Brexit is looming and the new Prime Minister is an entitled disaster waiting to happen. Social and political issues lie at the heart of most of the nominated albums, including the outspoken punk band IDLES and their Joy As An Act Of Resistance alongside Slowthai’s scorched-earth addresses on Nothing Great About Britain. The smart money would be on one of these two albums to win: both are urgent jabs to the chest that are keen to sum up the state of the U.K. in 2019 (catnip to the judges, which this year include Stormzy and Jorja Smith, who decide the eventual winner).

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Further down the list is Dave’s Psychodrama, a hugely impressive debut album that manages to paint in broad strokes and fine detail at the same time. A nomination for the permanently underrated Little Simz and her Grey Area also points to the rude health of the U.K. rap scene. Interestingly, The 1975 are the only act on the list who could be considered pop-adjacent. Black Midi, Foals, and Fontaines D.C. taking up a quarter of the list, meanwhile, makes out that all-male indie rock bands are having a moment that they plainly are not.

Exactly what the Mercury Prize is, or represents, is a question that is never really answered. Some think it exists to reward innovation, others like to think of it as capturing a moment in time in British music, while previous winners such as Dizzee Rascal and The xx have created new sounds to inspire their peers. Given the media attention the prize attracts, perhaps the judges could look to acknowledge more artists who are not already headlining festivals and topping the charts. With that in mind, the inclusion of London jazz group SEED Ensemble makes for heart-warming reading. As Music Week points out, their album Driftglass had sold just 374 copies before the Mercury Prize announcement.

Naturally though, the judges can’t put every great British album of the past year on their list and “snubs” are inevitable. With that in mind, here are 12 more albums from U.K. artists that deserve a little credit and recognition.

Tirzah, Devotion

Understated and pillow-soft, Tirzah’s tender electronic ballads feel private and deeply personal. Devotion genuinely can consider itself hard done by today.

Blood Orange, Negro Swan

Bizarrely, Dev Hynes has never picked up a Mercury Prize nomination despite being one one of the most reliably interesting artists around. This album of throwback R&B with an experimental edge deserved to break that duck.

Ezra Collective, You Can’t Steal My Joy

The jazz scene in London is on fire and acts like Ezra Collective, whose debut features a guest appearance from Jorja Smith, are one of the most exciting acts in the city. This debut teems with energy.

James Blake, Assume Form

Blake won the prize in 2013 with Overgrown. This year he released the loved-up and outward-looking Assume Form and missed out entirely. Perhaps the judges just prefer him miserable?

Roses Gabor, Fantasy & Facts

London-based experimental R&B singer Gabor’s debut album is filled with heart, hooks, and a feature from former Mercury winner Sampha.

Fredo, Third Avenue

At a time when U.K. rap has been demonised to oppressive levels it would have been nice to see recognition for an artist whose rise has come about without compromising his hard-boiled street sound.

Nilüfer Yanya, Miss Universe

Miss Universe is a deep-dive into Yanya’s world of luxury heartbreak and rollocking indie-rock guitars. A confrontational and unique voice.

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MoStack, Stacko

You can rely on MoStack for a good time and his ability to skip between grime and afrobeats rhythms light up Stacko at every juncture.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, King Of Cowards

First of all, get a look at that name. Pigs x7 (as they’re helpfully known) are a metal band from Newcastle whose unironic take on demonic ‘70s rock is as refreshing as it is unrelenting.

Skepta, Ignorance Is Bliss

Another previous winner, having collected the prize in 2016, Skepta has stuck to his guns in recent years and delivered a collection of rough grime anthems with Ignorance Is Bliss. A master at work.

Swindle, No More Normal

London producer Swindle’s latest album feels like plugging yourself directly into the city. Mixing jazz, grime, funk, and electronic music into his own brew, Swindle is in a class of his own.

Amnesia Scanner, Another Life

The Mercury Prize continues to overlook electronic music. Amnesia Scanner’s chaotic and direct take on club music would freak out the casual viewer, if nothing else.

These 12 British albums deserve a Mercury Prize, too