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Mercury Prize 2010: Runners and Riders (Part 2)

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Mike Diver Mike Diver | 14:38 UK time, Thursday, 15 July 2010

Yesterday I profiled six acts in with a good chance of featuring on this year's Mercury Prize shortlist - read about The xx, Dizzee Rascal, Laura Marling, Wild Beasts, Steve Mason and Four Tet here. The 12 artists competing for the award, now in its 19th year, will be revealed on Tuesday, 20 July. Here, I give you another six, plus alternatives.

(I realise there's no classical pick amongst my 12, but there's not been one on the Mercury shortlist since 2002. Don't hold your breath for one this year.)

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Artist: King Midas Sound
Album: Waiting for You
Why: 2010 is a big year for dubstep, with the ever-evolving genre taking significant steps into the mainstream - Rusko has already broken cover with his patchy O.M.G.! album, and there are high-profile long-players on the horizon from Skream and his collaborative project with Benga and Artwork, Magnetic Man. But my pick from this broad musical arena is a rather less busy affair. King Midas Sound is Kevin Martin, Kiki Hitomi and Roger Robinson; their music is an intoxicating mix of doom-edged slow-mo mechanics and dubbed-out beats, ethereal vocals and woozy atmospherics. The Hyperdub-released Waiting for You is a wonderful record that infects the listener with a feeling of uneasy calm, chill-out vibes tempered by an inherent paranoia. Martin should have earned a nomination for his last record as The Bug, London Zoo, in 2009; the judging panel can do the right thing in 2010 and give him the wider exposure his latest work deserves.
If the Mercury was the Word Cup they'd be: Ivory Coast
Watch on YouTube: Goodbye Girl, Earth a Killya, Meltdown
And if not them: Sticking to the Hyperdub label, which received a nomination in 2008 for Burial's Untrue, Ikonika's superb Contact, Love, Want, Have album is a treat of chiptune tangents and sink-into synths. Or, on a more playful tip, Hudson Mohawke's aquacrunk adventure Butter would be a worthy shortlist inclusion.

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Artist: The Unthanks
Album: Here's the Tender Coming
Why: Every year the Mercury selects a 'traditional' folk act as one of its shortlisted 12, and with a nomination already under their belts (albeit as Rachel Unthank and the Winterset, for their The Bairns album of 2007) this Northumberland group stand a good chance of being 2010's fairly token inclusion from their field. The Mercury has never shied away from nominating the same artist for consecutive albums - Bat for Lashes and Arctic Monkeys are two examples - so Here's the Tender Coming could well be amongst the far-from-dirty dozen come Tuesday's announcement. Nominations at the BBC's Folk Awards have been plentiful, and there's no reason why The Unthanks won't enjoy similar recognition from the Mercury's judging panel.
If the Mercury was the World Cup they'd be: Mexico
Watch on YouTube: The Testimony of Patience Kershaw, Lucky Gilchrist, Here's the Tender Coming
And if not them: Take your pick from The Imagined Village's Empire & Love, Damien O'Kane's Summer Hill, and Kris Drever's Mark the Hard Earth. All are worthy, but not one actually stands a chance of winning the thing.

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Artist: Polar Bear
Album: Peepers
Why: Much like the above reasoning for The Unthanks - Polar Bear have been previously nominated, in 2005 for Held on the Tips of Fingers, and play a style of jazz that lends itself to crossover circles. It's hardly easy on the ear, but features as many parallels with rock outfits as it does anyone from the jazz community. Drummer Seb Rochford is a master of his art, and capable of earning awards entirely on his own - factor saxophonist Pete Wareham, ex-Loose Tubes man Mark Lockheart, electronics wizard Leafcutter John and bassist Tom Herbert, also of The Invisible, into the equation and you've the sort of ensemble that dreams are surely made of. Strange, surreal, jazz dreams, anyway. Peepers would be considered among the favourites, if only a jazz album had previously won the Mercury. It's hard to see the panel taking such a plunge this year.
If the Mercury was the World Cup they'd be: Argentina
Watch on YouTube: A New Morning Will Come, Peepers, The Love Didn't Go Anywhere
And if not them: Strong albums from previous nominees Portico Quartet (Isla), bonkers relative newcomers trioVD (Fill It Up With Ghosts), and acclaimed pianist Django Bates (Charlie Parker tribute Beloved Bird) are all good shouts.

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Artist: Paul Weller
Album: Wake Up the Nation
Why: The BRIT-winning Modfather's tenth studio album is his best since 1993's Wild Wood, shortlisted for the 1994 Mercury (his only appearance to date, surprisingly). Containing substantial soul alongside a hefty dose of grittiness, Wake Up the Nation is a strikingly varied solo record from a man who had previously seemed content to be pigeonholed as a rather past-it creative force. While it runs to 16 tracks it never once drags its heels, songs spat forth with alarming speed, and the album's slower moments are truly touching. Some would see a victory as overdue, but in truth Weller has never been more worthy of the Mercury than he is this time out.
If the Mercury was the World Cup he'd be: England
Watch on YouTube: Wake Up the Nation, No Tears to Cry, Find the Torch, Burn the Plans
And if not him: Sticking to oldies whose time might well be now, why not Teenage Fanclub? Their new album Shadows, released 20 years after their debut, has attracted universal acclaim. Amazingly, they've never been shortlisted before (no Bandwagonesque in 1992, no Grand Prix in 1995). Maybe, just maybe...

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Artist: Plan B
Album: The Defamation of Strickland Banks
Why: Plan B, otherwise known as Ben Drew, achieved the career turnaround of recent pop history with his second album. Previously a potty-mouthed rapper in the vein of a British Eminem, albeit with an acoustic guitar strapped to his chest, his return as a blue-eyed soul boy left many a critic readying their poison pens. But didn't he do well, eh? The Defamation... (a concept album!) has been a mainstay on the albums chart ever since its April release, debuting at number one (in the same week that Scouting For Girls released their second LP) and returning there soon after. It's spawned top-ten singles, and turned Drew into a star with the world at his feet.
If the Mercury was the World Cup he'd be: Japan or South Korea
Watch on YouTube: She Said, Stay Too Long, Prayin'
And if not him: He'll never switch his style in the manner of Plan B, but south London's Giggs has had a year to remember so far (albeit for reasons fair and foul). His debut for the XL label, Let Em Ave It, is easily one of the best British rap records of the last 12 months.

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Artist: Foals
Album: Total Life Forever
Why: Guitar pop, mainstream indie, whatever you want to call it - it's not had much joy in a commercial sense lately as the charts, and playlists, have been dominated by RnB and rap acts. But Foals' Total Life Forever broke the top ten, and its singles have received substantial airplay, marking them out as a British guitar band with genuine cross-demographic appeal. The same can't, sadly, be said for several other great acts with excellent new records - recent long-players from The Futureheads and Mystery Jets missed the top 40. That Foals' second album (their debut, Antidotes, was also a top ten hit) is not only a winner on a sales front but also a superb evolution that demands all the respect it's received - it averages an 8/10 score - is a brilliant bonus. It absolutely deserves to be recognised as one of the best British albums of this Mercury year.
If the Mercury was the World Cup they'd be: The Dutch (without the dirty antics)
Watch on YouTube: Miami, Spanish Sahara, This Orient
And if not them: Mystery Jets' Serotonin and The Futureheads' The Chaos are both fantastic, and there's no doubt both acts could do with a little pick-me-up following disappointing sales figures.

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Read part one of this Mercury Prize article here.


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