Amidst an increasingly crowded awards calendar the Mercury Prize still carries formidable weight.
Perhaps that's due to the format - from a shortlist of 12 nominated albums, the judging panel must select just one outstanding LP.
It's a tough ask. This year's shortlist will be unveiled on Friday (October 16th), but before then Clash decided to detail a few of the records we believe could be in contention...
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Florence + The Machine – 'How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful'
Bigger, bolder and more pressing than ever before, Florence Welch delivers an emphatic third album. Intriguing, despite winning both BRIT and Grammy awards, Florence + The Machine have yet to bag the Mercury. Could it be third time lucky for one of Britain’s most flamboyant pop experiences?
Blur - 'The Magic Whip'
'The Magic Whip' was famously kicked off by a series of tour dates in the Far East, but came to define a deeply British summertime. Forming the spine of Blur's stately, celestial live show, the material came to represent the band themselves: elegant, evolutionary and forever moving forwards.
Foals – 'What Went Down'
Say what you like about Foals, they've got staying power. Their fourth studio album saw them heavier and darker than ever before, packed with as many melodic tracks ('Birch Tree', 'Mountain At My Gates') as more furious offerings ('Snake Oil'), all while sounding unmistakably Foals.
The Libertines – 'Anthems For Doomed Youth'
Hoist the high rigging and prepare to leave port – the good ship Albion is ready to set sail once more! In the end, The Libertines proved to be worthy proponents of their mythology, with ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’ retaining the poetry of their first flowering. Endearing ramshackle, this is better than we had any right to expect.
Little Simz – 'A Curious Tale Of Trials And Persons'
Over the past year, 21-year-old North Londoner Simbi Ajikawo has carved out a name for herself as one of the UK's most exciting rappers. A ferocious spitter, Simz documented her rise in this debut LP - a firm manifesto that casts a resolute eye around her newly built kingdom.
Lonelady - 'Hinterland'
Lonelady may have taken inspiration from long walks around the decaying remnants of the industrial north, but ‘Hinterland’ is a sheer pop statement. Brutalist vignettes that veer between ESG and Madonna, ‘Hinterland’ rummages around the Factory Records legacy while looking determinedly to the future. An engaging, imaginative and addictive triumph.
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East India Youth – 'Culture Of Volume'
Will Doyle's first step out on XL, 'Culture of Volume', revolved around '80s synth-pop and swirling melodies, colliding to create something that drew Bowie as well as Pet Shop Boys comparisons, sparking images of big room anthems being played to empty theatres.
Young Fathers – 'White Men Are Black Men Too'
The titanic creative force that is Young Fathers just can’t be stopped since scooping the Mercury a mere 12 months ago. Heading straight back into the studio, ‘White Men Are Black Men Too’ builds on their incredible debut while adding an astute pop flavour.
JME – 'Integrity'
Shunning any lame attempt to instantly blast into the Top 10, Jamie Adenuga kept his integrity on his third LP, which boasts razorblade wordplay and guest appearances from grime's royals, earning him an army of fans willing to swap him their shiny Charizard Pokemon cards for a vinyl copy. It's also got the lyric "I've got a black ski mask but I don't ski / I snowboard". Nuff said.
Darkstar – 'Foam Island'
Aiden Whalley and James Young's 'Foam Island' went further than being just a piece of music. Recorded in Huddersfield and speaking to young locals, the LP relayed a strong political message by focusing on a place hit hard by austerity, while employing some aggressive, intricate and infectiously optimistic melodies in the process.
Clark – 'Clark'
Released at the end of last year, Chris Clark's seventh full-length grabbed a fistful of the icy weather outside and splintered it into geometric shards of drone and techno. A huge, dramatic work, the bleak yet beautiful LP was a total masterpiece, and a very worthy contender for the prize.
Everything Everything – 'Get To Heaven'
Everything Everything are one of the country’s most curiously idiosyncratic bands, capable of tackling anything from religious fundamentalism to the more sincere love song. Doing both at once on ‘Get Heaven’, this album has already been tipped as a potential Mercury winner.
Jamie xx – In Colour Jamie Smith's debut full-length as solo artist split critics down the middle, incurring the wrath of Boomkat in particular, who called it "as seductive as a Waitrose fridge on a warm day". Saying that, was there really a greater contender for 'sound of the summer' as 'Good Times'?
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The Maccabees – 'Marks To Prove It'
Write about what you know, as the old saying goes. The Maccabees retreated to their South London studio last year, taking inspiration from a city in flux to create what is perhaps their broadest record to date. Rewarded with a career-first number one, The Maccabees are surely deserving of a place on the Mercury shortlist.
Ghostpoet – 'Shedding Skin'
Ghostpoet has been both a judge and a nominee at the Mercury, and the Brighton-based artist could well make another appearance this year. ‘Shedding Skin’ is a mark of his continuing maturity, a complex, absorbing yet immediate work that underlines his status as one of the finest artists at work in the country today.
SOAK – 'Before We Forgot How To Dream'
2015 has been an incredible year for Bridie Monds-Watson. Opening the year as a relatively unknown newcomer, SOAK’s charming, seductive, melodic and mature debut album seemed to cast a spell over anyone who heard it. Throw in a warm and engaging personality onstage, and you have a decent Mercury outside bet.
Wolf Alice – 'My Love Is Cool'
The Mercury may well be reticent to reward rock thrills but Wolf Alice’s coy pop touch could yet see them seize the final trophy. ‘My Love Is Cool’ captures the nascent energy of their incredible live shows but adds a little sugar to the mix. Could this be enough to seduce the panel? Don’t bet against them.
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Girl Band – 'Holding Hands With Jamie'
Girl Band’s debut album is simply one of the most visceral, thrilling sonic experiences to emerge in 2015. A long player that writes its own rules as it goes along, it finds the Irish band effortlessly shifting from astonishing concert experience to intriguing studio phenomenon. Plus, the lyrics reference nutella, which is always a good thing.
CHVRCHES – 'Every Open Eye'
CHVRCHES’ debut album was curiously snubbed by the Mercury panel back in 2013, and with the release of a follow up it’s surely time to right that wrong. ‘Every Open Eye’ is at times crisp, at others tender but always gripping, with CHVRCHES seeming to enhance and refine each aspect of their sound.
Lianne La Havas – 'Blood'
Lianne La Havas knows exactly what it takes to win the Mercury – she was judge on last year’s panel. ‘Blood’ is a sensational return, the sound of an artist driving herself further and further than ever before. Soulful, infectious and completely devastating, ‘Blood’ could well swipe the final prize.
Laura Marling – 'Short Movie'
In which Laura Marling turns electric. Plugging in, the songwriter burrows within herself, with ‘Short Movie’ tracing some often uncomfortably autobiographical ground. Her fifth album in seven years, ‘Short Movie’ underlines Marling’s status as one of the pre-eminent British songwriters of her generation.
Villagers – 'Darling Arithmetic'
Could Villagers make it third time lucky? Both of the project’s studio albums to date have been nominated for the Mercury, falling cruelly short on both occasions. ‘Darling Arithmetic’ is another profoundly moving piece of indie folk from Conor O’Brien, matching challenging themes to some of his most fragrantly beautiful music to date.
Portico – 'Living Fields'
Formerly three quarters of Portico Quartet, the newly-formed trio dazzled with their set of ambient jazz noodling and delicate textures on 'Living Fields', buoyed up by the vocals of soul boys Jono McCleery, alt-J's Joe Newman and Jamie Woon, and some warm sub bass.
New Order – 'Music Complete'
One of the most influential British bands of all time returning with their finest album in 20 years on one of the greatest labels the country has to offer – seriously, how could the Mercury panel ever look past New Order? Out now on Mute, ‘Music Complete’ is a stately, inspiring piece of maudlin Manc pop.
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Words: Felicity Martin and Robin Murray
The shortlist for this year's Mercury Prize is unveiled on Friday (October 16th).