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Mercury Prize 2011: Editor's Pick of the Best of British

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Mike Diver Mike Diver | 17:18 UK time, Tuesday, 24 May 2011

BBC Album Reviews Editor Mike Diver guides you through some of the acts who will be hoping to make the shortlist for this year's Mercury Prize...

The deadline for labels and the like to enter records for this year's Mercury Prize has passed - so if you've not submitted your latest long-player yet, best not to bother. The shortlist for the annual award won't be announced until July, but the cut-off for entries gives us an opportunity to look over some of the contenders. In other words, we've an excuse to revisit some of the very best British and Irish albums of the past 12 months. And who are we to pass up such a delightful way to spend an afternoon...

So, here are some of the finest albums (listed alphabetically) from domestic acts to have come out since The xx won the Mercury in 2010. If some make the list of 12, we'll be very happy indeed.

- - -

Adele - 21
(Released January 2011)
Well, this one needs little introduction. Adele's second album has dominated the UK albums chart since its release, its supremacy only now threatened by a certain Lady Gaga. The singer's debut, 19, made the Mercury shortlist in 2008 - can her new release go one better?
BBC review
Watch the video to Rolling in the Deep (YouTube link)

Admiral Fallow - Boots Met My Face
(Released March 2011)
Brilliant indie-folk from north of the border, recorded at Glasgow's celebrated Chem 19 studio, this debut set from Admiral Fallow is perhaps the closest any act has come, so far, to capturing the magic of The Delgados - who were nominated for their album The Great Eastern back in 2000. An outsider for a place on the shortlisted 12, certainly, but this is a great LP which deserves a bigger audience.
BBC review
Watch Admiral Fallow performing on the BBC Introducing Stage at T in the Park 2010 (YouTube link)

And So I Watch You From Afar - Gangs
(Released May 2011)
Instrumental mightiness from Northern Ireland, ASIWYFA have been collecting fans on the underground for several years, but their new album represents a real step forwards for the Belfast-based four-piece. Gangs comes recommended by Zane Lowe, who tends to know a thing or two about decent rock music. It might not have any lyrics, but when the music's this vivid they're hardly missed.
BBC review
Watch the band performing Think:Breathe:Destroy live (YouTube link)

Anna Calvi - Anna Calvi
(Released January 2011)
Anna Calvi was the first artist from the BBC's Sound of 2011 shortlist (of 15 - visit the homepage) to release an album in 2011, and it was an immediate critical success. That it broke into the UK top 40 shows that it's not only journalists who were swayed by her powerful singing and guitar prowess. With fans including Nick Cave and Brian Eno on her side, Calvi was never likely to disappear from the limelight as quickly as she arrived, and a Mercury nod would be further confirmation of her continuing appeal.
BBC review
BBC interview
Watch the video to Blackout (YouTube link)

Arctic Monkeys - Suck It and See
(Released June 2011)
Winners of the Mercury in 2006 for their debut album, and shortlisted the year after for their Favourite Worst Nightmare follow-up, could 2011 see the Sheffield indie titans (pictured, below) add a third nomination to their impressive list of achievements? Reports regarding their fourth LP are mixed so far, and the singles haven't been as strong as those from past collections - but never underestimate the power of the Monkeys. Suck It and See will surely be a commercial success, whatever the critical verdict.
Watch the video to Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair (YouTube link)

Arctic Monkeys promo photograph 2011

Bellowhead - Hedonism
(Released October 2010)
With their live sets steadily becoming the stuff of folk legend, this multi-member collective founded by Jon Boden and John Spiers could be a surprise package in 2011's shortlist. They offer a contemporary twist on folk tradition, with some 20 instruments used and no fewer than six vocalists coming to the fore. Lively is an understatement. They've been stars on their own circuit for a while, and Hedonism's great reception (and chart placing, peaking well inside the UK top 100) could see them striding from niche audiences into far wider recognition.
BBC review
Watch Bellowhead performing Cross-Eyed and Chinless (YouTube link)

James Blake - James Blake
(Released February 2011)
Another artist to have appeared on the BBC's Sound of 2011 list, ranked second behind Jessie J, James Blake's transition from dubstep upstart to pop experimentalist seems to be complete, his eponymous debut going out of its way to sever ties with anything nearing conventional dubstep motifs. An ambient treasure, this album was a bit hit with the critics around its release - but has its lack of obvious singles damaged Blake's longer-term prospects? Perhaps, but a Mercury nod would certainly help attract more fans.
BBC review
Watch the video to Lindisfarne (YouTube link)

Bring Me the Horizon - There Is a Hell, Believe Me I've Seen It. There Is a Heaven, Let's Keep it a Secret
(Released October 2010)
Metal rarely matters at the Mercury - although Biffy Clyro's place on the shortlist last year suggests that maybe the judging panel is coming around to heavier sounds. If so, the ambitious third album from British metalcore outfit Bring Me the Horizon could represent in 2011 for the more raucous end of the musical spectrum. Topping domestic rock and indie charts when it was released in October 2010, There Is a Hell... showcases a young British talent trying to expand their sonic palette, and doing so successfully.
BBC review
Watch the video to Blessed With a Curse (YouTube link)

The Burns Unit - Side Show
(Released August 2010)
More acoustic-ish indie/folk loveliness from Scotland, this lot feature King Creosote and Emma Pollock amongst their ranks. Side Show is a wonderfully conceived, superbly consistent affair, its production tight and its performances exemplary. It's further proof of a burgeoning new folk scene operating just below the mainstream in the UK, one where collaboration isn't a means to split royalties on a chart hit, but a way of furthering an individual artist's abilities.
BBC review
Watch a mini-documentary on The Burns Unit (YouTube link)

Kate Bush - Director's Cut
(Released May 2011)
Old songs done differently: not necessarily a recipe for critical success, but Kate Bush has reinvented material from her The Sensual World and The Red Shoes albums in a style that sets them truly apart from the originals. Granted, some fans have been less than impressed - but few can doubt that Bush's new release isn't the work of an artist still full of inspiration.
BBC review
Watch the video to Deeper Understanding (YouTube link)

Eliza Carthy - Neptune
(Released May 2011)
Nominated in 1998 for her album Red Rice and again in 2003 for Anglicana, fiddle player and vocalist Eliza Carthy is no stranger to the Mercury. A multi-award winner at the BBC Folk Awards over the years, she's a bright star shining over her musical world - but the Mercury is yet to pick a folk artist as its winner. That said, Neptune is far from a standard folk album, taking cues from myriad sources to wind up a very varied, but superbly realised and immediately engaging, set of uncommon class.
BBC review
Watch Eliza Carthy performing (Britain is a) Car Park live (YouTube link)

Cat's Eyes - Cat's Eyes
(Released April 2011)
A collaboration between Brit Faris Badwan and Canadian Rachel Zeffira (a couple personally and professionally), Cat's Eyes (pictured, below) is one of the more unusual collaborations of the year so far, combining 60s girl-group harmonising with some wonderful ethereality and just a smidgen of gothic grandeur. Their eponymous album is a woozy delight, clocking in at under half an hour but delivering a fuller experience than many a longer set. Badwan has been shortlisted before, in 2009 as a member of The Horrors. But a shortlist spot for Cat's Eyes would undoubtedly be sweeter still.
BBC review
Watch the video to I Knew It Was Over (YouTube link)

Cat's Eyes promo photograph 2011

Chase & Status - No More Idols
(Released January 2011)
The dance duo who set Plan B on the road to stardom when they used his vocals on their top ten single End Credits, Chase & Status are steadily playing catch-up on the UK soul sensation in terms of sales. Although Plan B's The Defamation of Strickland Banks failed to make the Mercury shortlist in 2010, No More Idols is popular with the bookies to make a mark on 2011's prize. It has divided the critics - a 1/10 score in NME; a near-perfect write-up from The Independent - but Chase & Status are slowly becoming superstars themselves. And a place amongst the Mercury runners and riders would add some significant critical kudos to their current commercial success.
BBC review
Watch the video to Blind Faith (YouTube link)

The Count & Sinden - Mega Mega Mega
(Released August 2010)
More domestic dance producers here, but where Chase & Status invite established pop presences to sing on their songs, this pair has always had an eye on the underground. So, instead of Plan B and Cee-Lo Green, here we have rappers Rye Rye and Trackademicks and the summery indie-pop sounds of Mystery Jets. Arguably, it has produced far better results: the contributions complement the productions, rather than stealing away the spotlight. The one instance where this might not be the case: Katy B's turn on Hold Me. The London singer's rise to the upper echelons of the pop scene has been remarkable, but well earned. That The Count & Sinden spotted her talent at such an early stage is proof of their well-tuned collective ear.
BBC review
BBC interview
Watch the video to Addicted to You (YouTube link)

Darkstar - North
(Released October 2010)
Now signed to Warp, Darkstar are moving in the same direction as James Blake: away from the dubstep scene that first embraced them and into more adventurous, texturally dynamic territories. North, the group's debut LP, was a strange release for Hyperdub to tackle on paper; but its mix of 80s synth-pop, soulful vocals and enrapturing beats has proved most addictive. Perhaps they can repeat Burial's feat of 2008, and register a second Mercury nomination for the highly influential London label operated by Steve 'Kode9' Goodman.
BBC review
Watch the video to Gold (YouTube link)

Dels - Gob
(Released May 2011)
Hip hop at the Mercury has, a handful of exceptions aside, largely been represented by just two acts: Roots Manuva and Dizzee Rascal. But the emergence of Dels and Ghostpoet (words on him a little further down there) is sure to challenge this would-be duopoly - both are phenomenally talented artists, offering original spins on tried-and-tested formulas. Gob is a riveting listen, intense and intelligent, standing left-of-centre but delivering memorable truths on a spread of subjects both universal and deeply personal. There's great production here, too, from the likes of Kews and Micachu. He might bemoan the daily grind now, but recognition from the Mercury would surely see those days fading from Dels' memory.
BBC review
Watch the video to Trumpalump (YouTube link)

Kit Downes Trio - Quiet Tiger
(Released March 2011)
A jazz release has never triumphed at the Mercury, but having been nominated once before - just last year, for Golden - Kit Downes is well-placed to make that breakthrough for his chosen genre. A greater sense of experimentation seeps forth from Quiet Tiger, Downes evidently eager to expand upon what he achieved an album earlier. The way instruments are weaved together is quite remarkable, and if any jazz album stands a chance at this year's Mercury, this one has to be among the front-runners. And if not, perhaps another nominee-past? Led Bib's Bring Your Own brims with newfound vigour, which could yet propel its makers to another shortlist spot.
BBC review
Watch Kit Downes Trio performing Skip James live (YouTube link)

Dutch Uncles - Cadenza / Everything Everything - Man Alive
(Released April 2011 / August 2010)
A set of zippy indie anthems from Manchester, Dutch Uncles' second album is a masterpiece of befuddling motifs and monstrous hooks - though they never abandon their underlying pop tendencies for a bit of overly clever-clever composition. A trove of unexpected turns, Cadenza is a captivating listen which surprises with some regularity. It's comparable in design to Everything Everything's Man Alive LP of August 2010 - which could also be in the running for a shortlist space, especially since the band (again, from Manchester) recently earned Ivor Novello nominations in the categories of Best Album and Best Song Musically and Lyrically.
BBC review
Watch the video to Cadenza (YouTube link)

Brian Eno with Jon Hopkins and Leo Abrahams - Small Craft on a Milk Sea
(Released November 2010)
Eno could feature on the Mercury shortlist twice - his new album, with poet Rick Holland, is due out at the start of July. But if he does take a spot as one of this year's nominees, it's likely to be for his collaboration with composer Jon Hopkins (responsible for soundtracking the film Monsters in 2010) and guitarist Leo Abrahams. Something of a love-letter to his own ambient work of the 1970s during its quieter passages, Small Craft... is a smooth listen which only finds ripples spreading across its surface when guest musicians make their presences felt. But while it's relatively unremarkable compared to the best of Eno's catalogue, there's no doubt this can transport the listener away from the everyday with ease.
BBC review

Frankie & The Heartstrings - Hunger
(Released February 2011)
Sometimes, fun is enough. This debut from Sunderland five-piece Frankie & The Heartstrings won't win any awards for originality, but its infectious energy spreads as if uncontrollable. A little Dexys, a little Orange Juice, and a little Futureheads: it's a great gumbo of pop-rockin' sounds of the past and present, and sure to leave a smile on any face. Should the Mercury panel need a pick-me-up, this fits the bill perfectly.
BBC review
Watch the video to Hunger (YouTube link)

Friendly Fires - Pala
(Released May 2011)
Again, Pala isn't a record that overflows with fresh ideas. Instead, its makers - already nominated for the Mercury once, for their eponymous debut, in 2009 - have worked on refining the best elements of their sound to date. So, Pala is all summery vibes, tropical percussion and sing-along vocals. It's about as difficult a listen as Velcro is a complicated means of tightening up your shoes, and the band's cross-demographic (and generation) appeal means they're certain to tick the panel's populist boxes.
BBC review
Watch Friendly Fires performing Live Those Days Tonight live (YouTube link)

Ghostpoet promo photograph

Ghostpoet - Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam
(Released February 2011)
Perhaps the most striking new voice in British hip hop to have surfaced since the rise of Roots Manuva, Ghostpoet's (pictured, above) maudlin musing about this, that and the other might sound duller than dishwater on paper - getting drunk here, doing better for yourself there. But the reality of this record is way better than any expectations could have been set for, understated production emphasising the genuine ache and emotion in our protagonist's voice. The new Mike Skinner? Oh, please - this fellow is better already, with just one album under his belt. If Ghostpoet wins in 2011, this writer will feel that the right decision's been made.
BBC review
BBC interview
Watch the video to Survive It (YouTube link)

Gold Panda - Lucky Shiner
(Released October 2010)
Despite his superb critical standing, Four Tet has never featured on a Mercury shortlist. But the comparable sound of Gold Panda could nail that achievement at the first time of asking, the Germany-based Brit's debut already picking up the Guardian's First Album award in January. It's a really engrossing work, skittering from propulsive percussion to introspective ambience, via scratchy samples and an overall feeling of lo-fi warmth. It's as if it wasn't constructed on a screen at all, but by a secretive band of brothers playing arcane instruments from a dusty parallel dimension. All in all, it's a slice of solid-gold wonderfulness.
BBc review
Watch the video to Marriage (YouTube link)

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
(Released February 2011)
One of the early favourites at the bookies to take this year's prize, PJ Harvey's latest is a powerful collection of war-inspired songs which lingers with the listener long after the record's faded to silence. It's an album that falls in and out of love with England, too - every step is taken warily, caution conveyed through another singularly brilliant performance from Harvey, a singer who seems to grow in confidence and range as she gets older. A winner in 2001, Harvey doesn't need the Mercury to boost her sales or reputation - but should she win in 2011, it will be for what is perhaps the most challenging album of her career.
BBC review
Watch the video to The Words That Maketh Murder (YouTube link)

The Horrors - Skying
(Released July 2011)
If the third studio set from The Horrors makes the cut-off point for 2011's Mercury (I think it does: it's scheduled for 11 July), then it stands a good chance of making the final 12 given their last album, the excellent Primary Colours, was one of the best LPs shortlisted for 2009's Mercury. This one's lead single, Still Life, manages to sound like Simple Minds without sending the listener running to the hills. Some achievement.
XL Recording's 'video' for Still Life (YouTube link)

The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar
(Released January 2011)
Big riffs, big choruses, big production: yep, The Big Roar is big alright. The Welsh trio have existed at the edges of the mainstream for a while - but a major label release for this debut has given the indie-rockers the support needed to truly take their anthems to the biggest-possible audiences. It's a tremendous statement of intent, bursting with confidence - but perhaps this year's Mercury is a little too early for them, as the prolonged gestation of this set has led to a little inconsistency. Album two could be the one that really flies.
BBC review
Watch the video to Whirring (YouTube link)

Katy B - On a Mission
(Released April 2011)
A pop star for the post-dubstep market, Katy B's ascension from guest singer to spotlight-hogging headliner has been rapid, but she deserves her crack at the top of the charts when her solo material is as gripping as what's presented on this debut. Measured melodies, wonderfully flexible vocals and delivering the sense that this is just the beginning of a beautiful career, On a Mission is one of 2011's best dance long-players, of any sub-genre. The girl (pictured, below) could sing the phone directory to a rudimentary beat and it'd still be worth moving to.
BBC review
Watch the video to Broken Record (YouTube link - contains flashing lights)

Katy B

King Creosote & Jon Hopkins - Diamond Mine
(Released March 2011)
One of those quiet albums one expects little from at the outset, Diamond Mine soon gets under the skin and stays there forever. A tender collection of reflection, King Creosote (aka Kenny Anderson) sings with the broken-down resignation of a man certain that his fate is set in stone - and it's against those stones he's about to be dashed. But there's hope, too - as the album closes, Your Young Voice looks not to the past but to the future, to the next generation and their dreams. You might just shed a tear.
BBC review

Kode9 + The Spaceape - Black Sun
(Released April 2011)
A menacing darkness creeps across this second collaboration between the Hyperdub founder and vocalist The Spaceape - Black Sun is not a record to put on when the desire to shake one's money-maker takes hold. Think more along the lines of Leftfield trapped in Lee "Scratch" Perry's Black Ark with the reggae legend already holding the matches. It seems to exist out of time, in a space unoccupied by any other album in 2011, neither in the present nor a relic from the past. But what it does pack is bass, so expect Mercury judges swayed by this release to be nursing sore heads come the shortlist's announcement.
BBC review

The Leisure Society - Into the Murky Water
(Released May 2011)
This is pop, readers, but not as most know it. Literate fare from the collective fronted by former Telescopes man Nick Hemming, Into the Murky Water is the second album from The Leisure Society and as English as a rainy caravan holiday. Think Belle and Sebastian with a card for every library on these shores, or The Divine Comedy without those slightly snarky undertones. It's as honest a record as you'll hear in 2011, and as indebted to its country of origin as the work of Wild Beasts and British Sea Power. Having already earned Ivor Novello nominations for their debut album The Sleeper, The Leisure Society could take another step into mainstream acceptance by popping up on the Mercury's final 12.
BBC review
Watch the video to This Phantom Life (YouTube link)

Let's Wrestle - Nursing Home
(Released May 2011)
Speaking of literate pop, how about an indie-rock trio whose latest work is described, on these here BBC webpages, as more Philip Larkin than Mark E. Smith? That's Let's Wrestle in a nutshell - a nutshell that shakes to the sound of lo-fi US acts like Sebadoh and Guided By Voices, albeit with a wit that's oh-so-very English courtesy of frontman Wesley Patrick Gonzales. Musically there's not much to write home about here - and that can be said of any Let's Wrestle release to date. But the sparkling lyricism warrants investigation, and Nursing Home's critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic might just spur the Mercury panel into proffering it some profile-raising attention.
BBC review
Watch the video to In Dreams Part II (YouTube link)

Magnetic Man - Magnetic Man
(Released October 2010)
Dubstep super-group Magnetic Man were one of the highest-profile new artists to emerge in 2010, the combined talents of Skream, Artwork and Benga always likely to get pulses racing in clubs the world over. But importantly for all concerned, this music isn't made exclusively for those whose weekend routine revolves around a night of revelry in some city-centre sweat-box - Magnetic Man's sights have always been on the biggest crowds, and this is truly dance music for the masses, capable of filling stadiums as easily as it can pump forth from PAs in the tightest of spaces. Either way, brains are going to rattle.
BBC review
BBBC interview
Watch the video to Getting Nowhere (YouTube link)

Metronomy - The English Riviera
(Released April 2011)
Joseph Mount and friends' third album is a delightful journey down memory lane, back to the Metronomy mainman's upbringing in Devon, via the springy beats of contemporary clubland and the ambient washes of stateside chillwave. Bucolic yet boisterous, capable of spilling sunlight across any gloomy skyline, The English Riviera (its makers, pictured below) is a restless ride into the mind of a man whose musical vision is far from solidified - and may it continue to morph for the foreseeable future.
BBC review
Watch the video to The Look (YouTube link)

Metronomy promo photograph 2011

Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
(Released February 2011)
Scottish post-rockers Mogwai have been critical darlings since the dawn of the sub-genre they helped to establish - but never before has an album of theirs been in the Mercury running. Hardcore... could change that. It's probably their most accessible album yet, and increased radio play has inevitably seen them attract new followers. Whole days can pass in this album's company, it's that sort of escapist affair. If a judge has managed to pull themselves free of its immense gravity, you never know...
BBC review
Watch the video to Rano Pano (YouTube link)

Mount Kimbie - Crooks & Lovers
(Released July 2010)
Just missing the cut for entering 2010's Mercury, the debut from Mount Kimbie shouldn't be overlooked in 2011. The electronic duo's reputation has rocketed since this LP's release, and they're gradually becoming go-to guys for remixes and more. Borrowing from acts like Bibio and Daft Punk, but disguising such parallels well, and twisting conventional dubstep tropes, Crooks & Lovers manages to present a coherent original voice in a sea of sound-alike electro acts. Drift off to this and you might just wake up and the end of a bus route you never boarded.
BBC review
Watch the video to Would Know (YouTube link)

The Phantom Band - The Wants
(Released October 2010)
Glasgow-based quirk-rockers The Phantom Band released a superb debut in 2009, titled Checkmate Savage, so many a listener came to this follow-up with expectations high. And rewarded they were, with a set that met the standards set by its predecessor and bettered them. Sharp of mind and spiky of riff, this lot don't do things by half, and The Wants is a completely satisfying set which packs a multitude of thematic starting points into pop-shaped songs which feature head-spinningly-good choruses that any festival crowd would feel proud to holler along to. It's not instant, though - prepare to spend some time with The Wants to get the very best out of it. Here's hoping a few of the Mercury judges have found the time this record needs to take proper root in one's affections.
BBC review
Watch the video to Everybody Knows It's True (YouTube link)

Planningtorock - W
(Released May 2011)
Bolton-born and Berlin-based artist Janine Roston, aka Planningtorock, has here crafted a record unlike any other on this particular list - and it's entirely likely that its weirdness will count against it when it comes to making the Mercury shortlist. It shouldn't, though - while as out-there as fare from previous collaborators The Knife, W is a compelling collection of electro-experimentation, of brooding beats and disconcerting atmospherics. James Murphy liked the artist enough to sign her to his DFA label - some seal of approval, there. But will the Mercury panel go for an album which takes as many cues from Giorgio Moroder as it does the gothic eeriness of witch house's hipster-baiting protagonists? If they do, someone buy them all a drink.
BBC review
Watch the video to Doorway (YouTube link)

Radiohead - The King of Limbs
(Released February/March 2011)
Radiohead have never won the Mercury, despite four previous nominations. If they win at the fifth time of asking, it won't be for their best album to date. But it'll be deserved for a catalogue which stands as perhaps the best of any active UK band.
BBC review
Watch the video to Lotus Flower (YouTube link)

Three Trapped Tigers - Route One or Die
(Released May 2011)
Uncompromising sonic terrorism here, from a London trio whose M.O. seems simply to be: make as much noise as possible, in a way that nobody has managed before. That everything seems to fit a structure is remarkable; that one can occasionally dance to this righteous racket, more amazing still. It's instrumental music with the emphasis on the last two syllables - jazz with Aphhex Twin in its blood, rock with ideas above its station. Whatever it's called, it's brilliant, but probably slightly too leftfield to make the Mercury cut.
BBC review

Tinie Tempah promo photograph

Tinie Tempah - Disc-Overy
(Released October 2010)
One of the UK's biggest urban stars of late, who's taken his wares stateside and enjoyed a hit with Written in the Stars, Tinie Tempah (pictured, above) is a pop icon in the making (if he's not reached that status already). Disc-Overy was nominated in the Best Album category at the 2011 BRIT Awards - it didn't win, but its maker did take home the trophies for Best Breakthrough Act and Best Single, the latter for UK number one Pass Out. He's done what Dizzee managed the year before him: combine rap lyricism with accessible clubland-conceived compositions, taking the results to the upper end of the charts.
BBC review
Watch the video to Pass Out (YouTube link)

The Unthanks - Last
(Released March 2011)
The Unthanks have experienced the thrill of featuring on the Mercury shortlist once already, The Bairns making the final 12 in 2007 (albeit under the banner of Rachel Unthank and the Winterset). Last is a stirring set of songs which sink deep into the soul, as unsettling as it is soothing. The beautiful interplay between members is one thing; the themes of death and disaster, quite another. They cover Tom Waits and King Crimson songs and make both their own. Truly, The Unthanks have become contemporary folk's premier attraction - and the Mercury could well fall under their spell once more.
BBC review

Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat - Everything's Getting Older
(Released May 2011)
Ex-Arab Strap man Aidan Moffat's unique brand of Scottish misery has served him well across a series of releases - here, with multi-instrumentalist Bill Wells, he's produced a record that might just be his finest since parting company with Strap colleague Malcolm Middleton back in 2006. An acutely affecting collection, Wells' gentle arrangements serving as backdrops for some of Moffat's most sincere lyricism, Everything's Getting Older is the work of a man - of men - accepting that things really are not going to ever be the same. The past is just that - but, looking on the bright side, the future is just what you make it. Apparently this album took eight years to bring to completion - let me tell you, not a day was wasted.
BBC review
Watch the video to The Copper Top (YouTube link)

Wild Beasts - Smother
(Released May 2011)
With word around the record-reviewers campfire being that Wild Beasts were unlucky at last year's Mercury, their second album Two Dancers only just failing to tilt the title away from The xx's eponymous debut, what are the chances of this superb third album going that extra mile with the panel and triumphing in 2011? Well, those who've lived with Smother for a while have certainly made their affection for it clear via social media, and a chart peak of 17 suggests that the public have come around to the band's inimitable sound. It will be seen as surprising indeed amongst critics if Smother doesn't make the shortlist in July. Questions will surely be asked, as few British albums in the past year have been as magical as this beautiful collection, and its charms are yet to wear off several spins later. All of those 9/10 scores, they're on the money, you know.
BBC review
BBC interview
Watch the video to Albatross (YouTube link)

Wiley - 100% Publishing
(Released June 2011)
Grime scene stalwart Wiley's new album (his seventh studio effort overall) has crept forward in the release schedule - perhaps to give it a crack at the Mercury? Back on Big Dada after issuing his fifth LP, See Clear Now, through Atlantic, the rapper/producer has taken the power back, writing and recording this set himself (he mastered it, too). A commendable effort for sure, but one that's come too late to matter to the Mercury panel? July shall reveal the answer to that question.
Watch the video to Numbers in Action (YouTube link)

Jamie Woon promo picture

Jamie Woon - Mirrorwriting
(Released April 2011)
Another BBC Sound of 2011 artist to have backed the hype up with a thoroughly decent album - the same can't be said of certain other artists (hang your heads, tipsters) - Woon (pictured, above) is a songwriter schooled in tradition but capable of putting a contemporary spin on what otherwise might be pop-folk pieces. His soulful vocals are the rock-solid core of any song, around which he weaves no little magic - arrangements come both minimal and fully fleshed, and both approaches suit his delivery well. If James Blake's album is just too opaque for you to focus on, Mirrorwriting is a great alternative.
BBC review
Watch the video to Lady Luck (YouTube link)

Zomby - Dedication
(Released July 2011)
Unpredictable dubstep-and-more producer Zomby is something of a loose cannon when it comes to recordings and live shows alike. Will his first album for 4AD, a label better known for atmospheric indie than genre-bending dance dynamics, live up to the high standards his fans expect? Or will it crash and burn brilliantly, its maker returning to beneath-the-radar operations as swiftly as he bounded from them? And if Dedication turns out to be 2011's most amazing album of its kind, will it be eligible for this year's Mercury? Too many questions. All that's certain: his track with Panda Bear, Things Fall Apart, is awesome, and if it's a sign of what's to come on the long-player, these two thumbs are turning upwards already.
Listen to Things Fall Apart on 4AD's YouTube channel (YouTube link)

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