In large part political and pessimistic in worldview, the albums nominated for this year’s Mercury prize could be interpreted as a treatise on Brexit Britain. They variously contain furious defences of the NHS, existential rage at the news cycle, indictments of online connection, despair at the shortcomings of the British penal system and tributes to the victims of the Grenfell fire.
Unsurprisingly, punk is well represented in a list containing a striking number of first-time nominees: Irish band Fontaines DC are nominated for Dogrel, Bristol’s Idles for Joy As an Act of Resistance, London’s Black Midi for their Rough Trade debut, Schlagenheim, and Northampton rapper Slowthai for Nothing Great About Britain.
Slowthai also leads a strong showing for British rappers: Dave is nominated for his debut album, Psychodrama, and Little Simz receives her first Mercury nod for her third studio album, Grey Area.
This year’s nominations also contain repeat nominations for Foals, up for their third Mercury prize with Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost, and a second for the 1975, for A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships.
British guitarist Anna Calvi has been nominated for her third album, Hunter, putting her among a select group of artists – Wolf Alice, Amy Winehouse, Savages, Laura Mvula and Michael Kiwanuka – to have seen each of their albums nominated for the prestigious award.
The list is completed by Welsh post-punk songwriter Cate Le Bon with her fifth album, Reward, London funk songwriter Nao for her second album, Saturn, and 10-piece collective SEED Ensemble for debut Driftglass.
Comprising noted young London players including tuba player Theon Cross, trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey and tenor saxophonist Chelsea Carmichael, the group fulfil the prize’s traditional lone jazz nomination. Last year’s jazz act Sons of Kemet were hotly tipped to win the prize, but lost to Wolf Alice for their second album, Visions of a Life.
Dave is the bookmakers’ favourite to win, with Ladbrokes giving odds of 3/1. Slowthai is the second favourite, at 5/1, and Idles third, at 6/1.
This year’s shortlist eschews some notable British albums from the past 12 months: records by James Blake, Florence + the Machine, former winner Skepta – who beat David Bowie’s final album to the prize in 2016 – rapper AJ Tracey, guitarist Nilüfer Yanya, songwriter Lucy Rose, chart behemoth Lewis Capaldi and avant-garde duo These New Puritans might all have expected nominations.
Metal is also traditionally under-recognised – breakout metal group Employed to Serve and Bring Me the Horizon would have been eligible – as is electronic music, with no mention of producer Objekt’s acclaimed 2018 album Cocoon Crush nor the Cinematic Orchestra’s To Believe.
It is the 28th year of the prize, which this year welcomes five new judges to the committee: Radio 1’s Annie Mac, former Supergrass frontman Gaz Coombes, R&B star Jorja Smith, Glastonbury headliner Stormzy and Vice UK editorial director and Guardian contributor Tshepo Mokoena.
Albums by British and Irish artists with a UK release date between 21 July 2018 and 19 July 2019 were eligible for nomination, and more than 200 were submitted. The prize will be awarded in a live ceremony on 19 September.
Nominees for the Mercury prize 2019 in full:
Anna Calvi – Hunter
Black Midi – Schlagenheim
Cate Le Bon – Reward
Dave – Psychodrama
Fontaines DC – Dogrel
Idles – Joy As an Act of Resistance
Little Simz – Grey Area
Nao – Saturn
SEED Ensemble – Driftglass
Slowthai – Nothing Great About Britain
The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
• What do you make of this year’s nominations? Let us know in the comments.