12 albums most likely to win the Hyundai Mercury Prize by EJ Scanlan.
You may remember back in July, TotalNtertainment released an article I wrote discussing my predictions as to which 12 albums should be nominated for the 2021 Hyundai Mercury Prize (and 12 that should have been), and I ended up getting 5/12, which is my best yet. As you might have read during these articles, the Mercury Prize helped evolve my music taste so much, to the point that without that, alongside big people involved with the Mercury’s, I wouldn’t have gone into broadcasting and/or journalism and my life would have been incredibly different… but before I worry about whether I should’ve taken the red pill instead of the blue pill, we have some business to discuss…
With the award ceremony happening at London’s Eventim Apollo on Thursday, I thought I should rank the 12 albums as to which is most likely to win the prize. #12 will be the record I think will be least likely to win the prize, and #1 is my pick. These relate to my musical judgement, opinion, past Mercury winners, fan approval and if I was a Mercury judge (Fun Fact: This would be my dream music job), what I would be debating if I was in their position. I know that this year’s lineup is an incredibly strong one and that the winning album will completely deserve it, regardless of what happens…
#12 – “Not Your Muse” by Celeste
Celeste is a gorgeous singer-songwriter, whose vocals are some of the strongest on this entire list, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up every single time I hear her voice. However, Celeste’s debut album, “Not Your Muse” doesn’t showcase her musicality as well as her previous material. The singles are fantastic on this, but the rest of the album sounds incredibly similar, with the same vocal styles, same slow hooks and everything else. I was incredibly disappointed by the album as a whole, especially as I love Celeste as an artist. Whereas she’s incredibly popular right now, the music will always come first with the Mercury’s, and this album, as much as I hate to say it, is the weakest on this list.
#11 – “Fir Wave” by Hannah Peel
Hannah Peel is an Emmy-nominated producer from Northern Ireland. A dance record, Peel’s production is second to none throughout and I’m in love with the album. However, the reason why it’s in this position is because I don’t believe that “Fir Wave” is a strong enough record to win the prize. Everything else brings something else, though I think that this nomination is incredibly deserved.
#10 – “DEMOTAPE/VEGA” by BERWYN
BERWYN is a very special type of artist. Emerging on the UK Music Scene last year, after the release of his debut mixtape, “DEMOTAPE/VEGA”, he was quickly added to the BBC Sound of 2021 list, and for good reason, as this is the first mixtape in the history of the Mercury Prize to be nominated, and BERWYN is the only artist ever to be nominated for the prize without having released an album. Regardless of anyone’s opinions on the record, it’s a special one to get placed in Mercury’s history.
The EP itself is honest, provoking and sensational in a lot of ways, but its messy production lets it down. A Mercury Prize winning album has to be perfect to the latter, and this isn’t. I believe it’s worthy of a nomination, but not worthy of a win, but I’m confident that BERWYN has single-handedly changed what it takes to be nominated for the most prestigious award in British and Irish music.
#9 – “SOURCE” by Nubya Garcia
Nubya Garcia is one of the most exciting jazz prodigies out there in the music scene, and her debut album, “SOURCE” proves that. The album celebrates old school jazz music while making it new and vibrant all the way through. I love this record, but I don’t think it’s strong enough to win the prize, though I’m certain that Garcia will certainly be a future Mercury winner.
#8 – “Conflict Of Interest” by Ghetts
Ghetts is an artist I’ve wanted to see nominated for a Mercury for several years now. He’s incredibly overlooked in the UK grime scene and his material is always very strong, and “Conflict Of Interest” is his greatest piece of work to date. From honest and insightful lyrics to sensational production and collaborations that are some of the strongest of the year, this record has it all, but is it strong enough to win?
#7 – “Pink Noise” by Laura Mvula
Laura Mvula has done a Michael Kiwanuka and a Wolf Alice and got all three of her albums nominated for the Mercury. It still surprises me that her debut “Sing To The Moon” or her sophomore record “The Dreaming Room” haven’t won, as both of those records are sensational in their own way, as is “Pink Noise”. Whereas Mvula herself deserves the prize, I don’t think this will be the year she gets it, as “Pink Noise” is not as strong as her previous releases in my opinion. The production is amazing throughout and so are Mvula’s vocals, but it’s missing that “oomph” that her other albums have. Laura Mvula WILL win the Hyundai Mercury Prize, just not in 2021.
#6 – “As The Love Continues” by Mogwai
Mogwai returned this year with their highly anticipated tenth studio album, “As The Love Continues”, which might be some of their best work to date. Their post-rock sound creates an atmospheric feel that puts you on the edge of your seat while simultaneously making you feel free. This is the comeback album of the year, and I think a Mercury is what is needed for these guys.
#5 – “Promises” by Floating Points, Pharoah Saunders & The London Symphony Orchestra
For the first time since I started following the prize in 2012, a classical music record is nominated, and “Promises” is the perfect classical album to be in this position. Floating Points is an outstanding producer with extensive knowledge of music. Paired with Saunders’ beautiful jazz abilities and The London Symphony Orchestra’s melodically symphonies, you are guaranteed to experience musical euphoria. From this collaboration, the listener is met with a variety of the most imaginative and atmospheric pieces that have been released in many years. It allows the listener to enter a wonderful and insightful journey, making every repeat feel like the first listen. “Promises” is expertly executed and has the potential and strength to play a dark horse and take the prize.
#4 – “For the first time” by Black Country, New Road
Having first heard this record in Rough Trade and me buying it instantly, I knew that Black Country, New Road had something very unique and special. The band’s debut album, “For the first time” is one of the strongest of the last few years. The entirety of the record is shit hot in its execution, with this being one of the best records I’ve heard in many years for instrumentation and band chemistry. This record is something different and Black Country, New Road is at the heart of this new wave of music, which needs celebrating with the Mercury Prize trophy.
#3 – “Untitled (Rise)” by SAULT
The mysterious London band that has quite literally come out of nowhere, SAULT are a pseudonymous British music collective that makes a mixture of rhythm and blues, house and disco that keep themselves hidden from the public eye. They’ve gained critical acclaim with all of their records, and the fourth of which, “Untitled (Rise)” isn’t only a major competitor to win the Mercury Prize, but is currently the big favourite to win the whole thing, and it’s easy to see why. The R&B sound they’ve captured is revolutionary, with sensational production and very honest lyrics, foregrounding black-centric issues. This is a band everyone needs to hear, and you’re in for a treat if you listen to this incredibly poignant record.
#2 – “Blue Weekend” by Wolf Alice
If you asked me which album deserves to win the Mercury most, it’s “Blue Weekend”. It’s without a doubt one of my favourite records of all time and will ultimately go down in history as one of the greatest albums of the 21st century. The record is slick, masterfully produced, very carefully put together and its execution is exquisite. Track by track, each song denotes exactly what Wolf Alice can do. They’re the masters not of just their scene, but the entirety of the music industry. It’s incredibly unlikely for an artist’s album to be nominated straight after their previous release won the prize with “Visions Of A Life” in 2018, so can Wolf Alice join PJ Harvey as the only artist in history to win the Mercury Prize twice…? Time will tell, but I think if any record can do it, it’s “Blue Weekend”.
#1 – “Collapsed In Sunbeams” by Arlo Parks
If you asked me to bet everything I own on which album would win, my answer would be “Collapsed In Sunbeams” by Arlo Parks. Yes, I’m a massive fan of Arlo and don’t think she’s released a single bad original song, but this debut album is one of the greatest of the 21st century. Already nominated for the “Album Of The Year” at the BRITS and the record already winning at the AIM Awards, people are realising how amazing this album really is. No emerging artist deserves the Mercury more than Arlo. “Collapsed In Sunbeams” is exactly what the Mercury’s was made for, it’s gold dust all the way through, from its top tier production to Parks’ lyrics that are expertly written, capturing the love and troubles of a “super sad” generation. It has to win.
So, who do you think will win the Hyundai Mercury Prize, be sure to let me know!
Watch the Hyundai Mercury Prize live from the Eventim Apollo in London this Thursday at 9pm on BBC Four. I’m also glad to say that I’ll be at the ceremony reviewing the performances and reacting to the winner while I’m there. Follow me on Instagram, @ejscanlan to see my live reactions.