The 2016 Mercury prize shortlist: hear the albums – and see what our critics thought of them

Read what we said about this year’s 12 Hyundai Mercury prize-shortlisted albums – from Anonhi to Bowie to the 1975 – and listen to them in full. And let us know what the judges have missed …

Anohni – Hopelessness

What we said: “Anohni, who previously preferred to record against soft piano with the occasional instrumental flourish, has changed tack for Hopelessness, teaming up with the avant-electronica producers Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never. The results are astonishing, treading a line between underground electronica and the most cutting-edge pop and R&B productions: fizzing synths, beats that skitter along or thud like heartbeats. I Don’t Love You Anymore – with its organs and gunshot cracks – sounds like a church service during the breakout of apocalypse.”

Read Ben Beaumont-Thomas’s interview with Anonhi here.

Bat for Lashes – The Bride

What we said: “[The Bride} has a concept. It revolves around a woman whose fiancé dies on his way to their wedding, and her subsequent experiences of life after love … This is a collection of darkly intriguing dirges, a battle for dominance between Khan’s intimate, exquisitely beautiful vocal and subtly unnerving sonic dissonance at its heart.”

Read Kate Hutchinson’s interview with Bat for Lashes here.

David Bowie – Blackstar

What we said: “You’re struck by the sense of Bowie at his most commanding, twisting a genre to suit his own ends … The overall effect is ambiguous and spellbinding, adjectives that apply virtually throughout Blackstar. It’s a rich, deep and strange album that feels like Bowie moving restlessly forward, his eyes fixed ahead: the position in which he’s always made his greatest music.”

Read Alexis Petridis’s appreciation of David Bowie here.

Jamie Woon – Making Time

What we said: “Five years after his debut, Mirrorwriting, Making Time finds Woon creating music that is surprisingly minimal: he has spent that time absorbing the output of Theo Parrish and fellow Brit Floating Points … Woon might have been expected to return with a dancefloor-focused second album, but instead he’s taken the soul road, and it sounds like a brilliant statement of intent.”

Read Harriet Gibsone’s interview with Jamie Woon here.

Kano – Made in the Manor

What we said: “While the likes of Stormzy and Novelist have concentrated on harder, myopic tracks that reference their world and little else, here Kano offers more accessibility. Some of that jars, including a slow, trudging ode to his sibling (Little Sis), but others – such as standout A Roadman’s Hymn – show an MC who has become an artist. As grime continues its ascent, Kano’s new approach might be catnip for those who want something more mature.”

Read Ben Beaumont-Thomas’s interview with Kano here.

Laura Mvula – The Dreaming Room

What we said: “It should be much harder work than it is. But like Joanna Newsom, Mvula pulls the listener along with her through the most serpentine songs: however winding their routes, the melodies are almost always beautiful; however much the musical scenery shifts, it is always striking. You do wonder what its commercial fate will be. Despite the discrepancy between its advance publicity and its contents, Sing to the Moon went gold, but there are moments here strange enough to make Sing to the Moon sound like the work of the new Adele by comparison. Or perhaps audiences will be seduced by The Dreaming Room’s invention and originality, which would be entirely fitting.”

Read Tom Lamont’s interview with Laura Mvula here.

Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate

What we said: “Unlike his own debut, Love & Hate never feels like an album screwing its eyes shut and trying to make believe that it’s 1971. The retro affectations are bound up with stuff that sounds very modern: the ambient electronics that open I’ll Never Love; the warped acoustic guitar that drives the title track; the way the sound plays with distortion, suddenly whacking it on Kiwanuka’s vocals at moments of high drama, or slathering it over the guitar on closer The Final Frame until it sounds like it’s short-circuiting. You might even say that Falling weirdly resembles one of Kiwanuka’s old folk-soul heroes had they somehow been exposed to the latterday oeuvre of Radiohead. A beautiful melody, wrapped in gauzy textures, it’s a fantastic song, exquisitely arranged, something Love & Hate is packed with: the work of an artist coming into his own.”

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

What we said: “Radiohead’s previous attempts at creating a rousing call to arms have been hobbled by their innate pessimism, as exemplified by 2001’s You and Whose Army?, on which Thom Yorke somehow contrived to sound utterly deflated while offering Tony Blair out for a punch-up in time-honoured ‘come on then’ style. Here, however, the stuff about how the future is inside us and people have the power sounds authentically stirring. It also sounds like Radiohead achieving something they’ve never achieved before, a quarter of a century into their career: long may their neuroses keep them in constant motion.”

Savages – Adore Life

What we said: “When it works, Adore Life works incredibly well: there’s a slight opacity, a warmth to the sound and the words that comes as a welcome change from the icy blast of Silence Yourself. At one extreme, the fragmented guitar riffs and echoing noise of Mechanics perfectly conjure a brooding, bruised atmosphere; at the other, the disco pulse of Evil is propulsive and hard to resist. Equally, however, there are a couple of moments when Savages’ push forward from their debut doesn’t quite come off: tracks on which their edge just appears to have been dulled without anything being added to compensate; on which, with the distorting intensity dialled down, they sound somehow more like the sum of their influences than before.”

Read Laura Snapes’s interview with Savages here.

Skepta – Konnichiwa

What we said: “For all that the album self-evidently has one eye fixed on the States, you never get the sense of an artist subjugating his own personality to succeed abroad. It’s not just that the lyrics throughout are dextrous and sharp and funny, although they are. It’s that even his most virulent braggadocio is underscored by a very winning, very British kind of bathos. Held in custody on Crime Riddim, he becomes concerned by his desire to ‘spend a penny’; among the list of menaces detailed on Corn on the Curb lurks the threat to ‘shower man down like Fireman Sam’; and while enumerating his many bad-boy credentials, he brags that he sometimes smokes in no-smoking areas.”

The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It

What we said: “The real strength of the album isn’t much different to that of their debut. It’s stuffed with really good pop songs, their writers clearly unencumbered by fear of a certain melodic gaucheness … You’re left with an album that fancies itself as a challenging work of art, but turns out to be a collection of fantastic pop songs full of interesting, smart lyrics, but also peppered with self-conscious lunges for a gravitas it doesn’t really need.”

Read Michael Hann’s interview with the 1975 here.

The Comet Is Coming – Channel the Spirits

What we said: “Sixty years after Sun Ra released his debut album, the influence of the late avant garde jazz musician and ‘cosmic philosopher’ persists. In the intervening decades artists as diverse as Spiritualized, Krautrock pioneers Amon Düül and electronic minimalists Silver Apples have attempted to emulate his freeform style. But now in 2016, his true heirs may just have arrived … Powered by Arkestral cosmic forces, the Comet Is Coming. Brace for impact.”


Guardian music

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