A brief guide to Mercury Prize 2018

BY Rosie Pentreath

12th Sep 2018 Music

4 min read

A brief guide to Mercury Prize 2018
We take the hard work out of deciding where to start with this year’s contemporary Mercury Prize listening with our super quick guide to the 12 albums nominated
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino by Arctic Monkeys
The standout tracks from Arctic Monkeys’ latest album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino may feel like a bit of a departure from the I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor and Fluorescent Adolescent days—listen to the title track to hear what we mean—but they’re well worth a listen as an intro to this album.
For idiosyncratic Alex Turner vocals wedded with eerie synths, try American Sports and Science Fiction.
A Fever Dream by Everything Everything
Remember the edgy, syncopated song, Cough Cough that exploded Everything Everything into mainstream consciousness in 2013? Two albums later and the boys are still giving us that distinctive Everything Everything sound with interesting textures on their fourth studio album, A Fever Dream.
Start with a Good Shot, Good Soldier, Can’t Do and Desire to get yourself grounded and then head for Big Dream, Put Me Together and A Fever Dream if you want to get into deeper, reflective, dreamy vibes.
Everything Is Recorded by Everything Is Recorded
Everything is Recorded is the first solo studio album from producer Richard Russell. Russell is the founder of XL Recordings, which has given us records by The White Stripes, Dizzee Rascal and M.I.A. to name just three huge artists. The prolific producer gives us a collection of enviable collabs in this collection, with Sampha, Giggs and jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington among those on the bill. Head for Close But Not Quite and Bloodshot Red Eyes to get into it.
High as Hope by Florence + The Machine
Florence’s new record is a gorgeous, sparsely-produced collection that champions her powerhouse vocals through her explorations of personal experiences of love, loss and large life lessons. Singles Hunger, Big God and Sky Full of Song are instant favourites, but you also can’t go wrong skipping forward to Patricia and Grace, which are both beautifully poignant tracks.
Lost & Found by Jorja Smith
Fresh off a Brit Critics’ Choice Award win, the first studio album from Jorja Smith is a laid-back RnB offering with all the hallmarks of a classic. It’s a rare gem that’ll appeal as much to music aficionados for its originality as it will to less discerning listeners who might be looking for something new to add to their background listening collection. The title track, Lost & Found, is as good a place to start as any. Then head for Where Did I Go? and Blue Lights to get to know the album better.
The Ooz by King Krule
Singer-slash-rapper King Krule (born Archy Marshall) recently described his second studio album, Ooz, as being “all about the gunk” in a Pitchfork interview. Earwax, snot; the less appealing bodily functions we’re not even aware of most of the time is how he elaborates.
The album takes you on a murky and indeed oozy journey, with Marshall’s guttural low voice drooling over thick textures punctuated by piano and horn sounds—some pretty schmoozey saxophone comes through in the sixth track Lagos, for example. Start with Biscuit Town and Lonely Blue and go from there.
No Shame by Lily Allen
Queen of West London pop-with-edge is back with no shame, this album loudly declares. And we’re glad, because tracks like Come On Then and Trigger Bang herald a return of the kind of catchy choruses and potent lyrics that pack the pop punches we’ve been missing.
Go for Lost My Mind and Family Man to get around Allen’s soul-searching around loss and the breakup of her marriage.
Holiday Destination by Nadine Shah
Nadine Shah has been a refreshingly distinctive voice in contemporary music since she released her first studio album, Love Your Dum and Mad, in 2013. Her latest LP, Holiday Destination is a searing commentary on “the rise in nationalism and a decline in empathy”, as Shah put it in a recent interview with NME. She’s not afraid to tackle the biggest political issues of our time, including islamophobia and issues around Brexit. Ease yourself in with the title track and Evil.
Who Built the Moon? by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
Noel Gallagher’s third studio album has been described by The Independent as a “riot of musical colour”. Kicking off from the warm, jangling textures in “Fort Knox”, the record goes though driving indie rock track after driving indie rock track. Highlights include “Keep On Reaching” and singles “It’s A Beautiful World” and “Holy Mountain”.
Novelist Guy by Novelist
Grime MC Novelist’s debut studio album, Novelist Guy, is a masterclass in the genre at its most methodical—there are no barely-thought-out clichés here but rather carefully-produced tracks demonstrating the best of what grime can do. Get started with Dot Dot Dot and Stop Killing the Mandem to get into the true essence of the record.
Your Queen is a Reptile by Sons of Kemet
Calling all jazz fans and aficionados—Mercury 2018’s jazz nod is well worth the listen. Sons of Kemet is saxophonist/clarinetist Shabaka Hutchings, tubaist Theon Cross and drummers Seb Rochford and Eddie Hick.
The modern jazz outfit incorporates Afro-Caribbean beats, sprinkled with rock and traditional jazz motifs, into upbeat tracks. My Queen Is Harriet Tubman (referencing the American abolitionist) and My Queen Is Doreen Lawrence (honouring the British-Jamaican campaigner and mother of murdered Stephen Lawrence) are both strong places to start. Other important activists, revolutionaries and heroes name-checked in this album’s tracks include Mamie Phipps Clark, Yaa Asantewaa and Anna Julia Cooper.
Visions of a Life by Wolf Alice
Wolf Alice alternates between shy shoe-gaze synths and screaming, driving rock as natural as you like. To get to know their latest offering, Visions of Life, you could do worse than to hone in on singles Beautifully Unconventional and Don’t Delete the Kisses before delving in deeper with the ethereal Planet Hunter and Space Time, a hefty rock pick-me-up.
We reckon you might find yourself just wanting to listen to the whole thing after that: track after track offers up gorgeous ambient textures punctuated with hefty guitar riffs, all carried by frontwoman Ellie Rowsell’s charismatic vocals.
The winner of the 2018 Mercury Prize will be announced on Thursday, September 20.