Mercury prize 2014 ignores big stars in favour of FKA Twigs, Young Fathers and East India Youth

The only big names on this year’s shortlist are Damon Albarn and Bombay Bicycle Club, with seven debuts and three jazz artists making up a relatively obscure list of nominations

An array of new faces and lesser-known names make up this year’s nominations list for the Mercury prize. Perhaps conscious of criticism that the award has become dominated in recent years by established artists, only two of the names on this year’s list could claim to be household names: indie band Bombay Bicycle Club, whose fourth album So Long, See You Tomorrow explores more electronic territory, and Damon Albarn, whose first official solo album, Everyday Robots, marks the fourth time he has made the nominations list – twice with Blur and once with Gorillaz before the group asked to be removed from the list.

Damon Albarn in profile singing into a microphone
Damon Albarn has been nominated for Everyday Robots. Photograph: Nicolas Celaya/Rex

Elsewhere, the nominations seems content to remain relatively obscure, with no place for some tipped big name artists such as Sam Smith or Elbow. Seven debut albums make the list, most of which make for the most exciting choices. FKA Twigs’ LP1 sees 26-year-old solo artist Tahliah Debrett Barnett meld a variety of genres – from trip hop and jazz to ambient and R&B – to conjure up a sensual sound that is both ethereal and unique. Edinburgh trio Young Father’s apply a pop twist to hip-hop, rock and African music on their album DEAD, whereas the self-titled offering from XL signings Jungle incorporates various strands of dance music, from funk to house.

Anna Calvi live at Latitude
Anna Calvi at Latitude. Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian

Such disregard for genre seems to be a theme on the list. East India Youth’s Total Strife Forever sees solo artist William Doyle experimenting with electronic soundscapes reminiscent of Brian Eno. Kate Tempest’s Everybody Down is a hip hop album, but one with an established literary bent: Tempest is a performance poet who won the Ted Hughes Award in 2013 for her theatrical spoken word piece Brand New Ancients.

The Mercury prize has also been criticised in recent years for focusing too heavily on guitar bands, but this doesn’t seem to be the case this year, with Bombay Bicycle Club being joined only by Anna Calvi, for her second album One Breath, and Brighton rockers Royal Blood. The latter act join Damon Albarn as current bookies favourites for their self-titled debut album, with William Hill offering odds of 4/1 for each artist prior to the list being announced. There are also three nods for jazz artists, namely Polar Bear’s In Each And Every One, GoGo Penguin’s v2.0 and First Mind by Nick Mulvey, who was formerly a member of previous nominees Portico Quartet.

Royal Blood
Royal Blood’s Ben Thatcher and Mike Kerr. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/the Guardian

Simon Frith, head of the Mercury judges, said: “This year’s Barclaycard Mercury prize shortlist confirms that these are fascinating times for UK music. There are seven outstanding debut albums here, and five records by more established artists, all pursuing exciting new directions. What most impressed the judges was the inventive passion with which musicians explore music and emotional possibilities, refusing to be pinned down by rules or genre.

“We always read that the album has had its day. But one of the things I find fascinating about this list is how much the album still seems to mean to musicians. Kate Tempest would be a good example of this - her whole album is like a narrative poem and she needs the full album to be able to do what she needs to do.”

After hearing the news of her nomination, Tempest said: “I feel extremely excited, shocked and proud. In a way it’s a similar feeling [to winning the Ted Hughes prize] but it’s also different, because poetry is a different world. I used to watch the Mercury prize on the telly when I was 16, wondering when it would be my time, so this is really special.”

East India Youth’s Doyle was also delighted that the band’s album had been selected. “To be nominated is absolutely mental,” he said. “When we made it we didn’t think of it reaching beyond the four walls in which we were making it. I do everything live myself so maybe if I win it would be a consideration to get more artists onstage but I quite like pushing the concept of a one man band as far as I can.”

The overall winner of the 2014 Prize will be announced at the Barclaycard Mercury prize awards show at the Roundhouse in London on Wednesday 29 October 2014.

The full nominations list

Anna Calvi – One Breath

What we said: “One Breath is truly cathartic, but it will leave you a quivering wreck.”

Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow

What we said: “So Long, See You Tomorrow raises mild expectations of total, unimaginable self-reinvention. Instead it sticks pleasingly, if a touch disappointingly, to the lithe, artful dance-rock of its predecessor, A Different Kind of Fix.”

Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots

What we said: “Beautiful, but subtle, cloudy and elusive, Everyday Robots certainly isn’t the album it’s purported to be. You come out of the other side not much the wiser about the man behind it. Never mind: the music is good enough that a lack of revelation doesn’t really seem to matter”

East India Youth – Total Strife Forever

What we said: “Perhaps surprisingly, Doyle is at his most affecting when he’s vocal-free: songs such as Glitter Recession counterpoint their melodic beauty with a subtle, unsettling undertow.”

FKA twigs – LP1

What we said: “You leave it convinced that FKA Twigs is an artist possessed of a genuinely strong and unique vision, one that doesn’t need bolstering with an aura of mystique.”

Jungle – Jungle

What we said: “It all runs very smoothly – perhaps too smoothly for some tastes – but listen past the sheen and the headphone goods are there.”

Young Fathers – Dead

What we said: “Like Massive Attack 25 years ago, Young Fathers have quietly constructed a strange and intoxicating musical universe that feels entirely their own.”

Kate Tempest – Everybody Down

What we said: “Tempest shines, though, through her use of language, which illuminates the subject matter – from boardroom drug deals to vacuous parties where “everybody … has got a hyphenated second name” – to dazzling effect.”

GoGo Penguin – v2.0

What we said: No review

Nick Mulvey – First Mind

What we said: “Although the beautifully pensive songs are steeped in the likes of Nick Drake, Paul Simon and John Martyn, they’re informed by the 28-year-old Mulvey’s studies in ethnomusicology (African and oriental sounds) and Cuban music.”

Polar Bear – In Each and Every One

What we said: “Seb Rochford’s creative mix makes the album seem like an integrated, large-scale work, and the overall effect is eerily beautiful.”

Royal Blood – Royal Blood

What we said:Peel back the early 00s rock (the Vines, Death from Above, riffs that lurch like Jack White drunk at a saloon bar) and there are quavering vocals that add texture to their stodgy sound.”


Tim Jonze

The GuardianTramp

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