Entertainment & Arts

Mercury Prize 2013: The nominees

Some of the albums nominated for this year's Mercury Prize

A look at the 12 acts nominated for this year's £20,000 Barclaycard Mercury Prize, which will be announced on 30 October.

Text by Frances Cronin, Kev Geoghegan, Mark Savage and Sabrina Sweeney

ARCTIC MONKEYS - AM

AM, in the words of Arctic Monkeys' drummer Matt Helders, is "the album we've always been waiting to make".

Supple and sinuous, the album swaps the frenetic punk of the band's Mercury-winning debut for something altogether more rhythmic.

The new-found R&B swagger underscores Alex Turner's lyrics. Five albums in, the bequiffed frontman is undeniably randy.

"Sorry to interrupt - it's just I'm constantly on the cusp of trying to kiss you," he purrs on Do I Wanna Know?

Released this week, the album follows the Sheffield quartet's second headline slot at Glastonbury in June - marked by a confidence light years away from their skittish, underwhelming first attempt.

"The confidence leap shown at Glastonbury was clearly no fluke," wrote Kevin Harley in the Independent. "AM sees the Monkeys rebuilt to last."

Watch the video for Do I Wanna Know?

JAMES BLAKE - OVERGROWN

A classically-trained pianist who studied popular music at Goldsmiths University, James Blake has done the double - getting two Mercury nominations with his first two albums.

He emerged from the dubstep scene but his cerebral, ambient compositions have little to do with the genre he has since dismissed as "testosterone-driven" and "macho".

The only remaining link is his exploration of low-end frequencies, which rumble disquietingly underneath his yearning vocals.

Last year, Blake got to work with personal heroes including RZA from hip-hop crew Wu-Tang Clan and ambient pioneer Brian Eno, who helped the songwriter navigate the curse of the "difficult second album".

"We had some tea, got on well and listened to music," he said. "It was therapeutic."

The advice paid off, said Neil McCormick in The Telegraph.

"Blake has made a real effort to raise the bar of his own material. There are tracks where you catch glimpses of the sensitive Nick Drake-ish singer-songwriter he might have become in a pre-computer age."

Watch the video for Retrograde

DAVID BOWIE - THE NEXT DAY

Blam! David Bowie broke a 10-year silence in the early hours of 8 January, releasing a new single, Where Are We Now, completely out of the blue.

It was the first sign of his 24th studio album, recorded in secret over two years with long-time producer Tony Visconti.

The Next Day casts an eye back over Bowie's illustrious career but, instead of wallowing in nostalgia, he defiantly - even cheekily - faces up to his own mortality.

"I stumble to the graveyard and I lay down by my parents," sings the 66-year-old on I'd Rather Be High, "Whisper: 'Just remember, duckies, everybody gets got.'"

The Telegraph called it "an absolute wonder: Urgent, sharp-edged, bold, beautiful and baffling".

Bowie has not promoted the album in person - and he is unlikely to attend the Mercurys - but it gave him a number one anyway, his first since 1993.

Watch the video for Where Are We Now?

JAKE BUGG - JAKE BUGG

Jake Bugg became the youngest British male to debut at number one when his self-titled album was released in October 2012.

"I was baffled when it did, I just wasn't expecting it. I didn't know what was going to happen when it was released," he told the BBC.

It's been a unexpected rise to fame for the 19-year-old singer who began playing guitar at age 12 while growing up on Nottingham's Clifton Estate - once the biggest council housing estate in Europe.

Described by fans as the old person's young singer, his interest in music was sparked when he heard Don McLean's Vincent (Starry, Starry Night) during an episode of The Simpsons.

Many of the tracks on his Dylanesque debut recall his provincial upbringing, such as Two Fingers which includes the lyrics: "I drink to remember, I smoke to forget."

They also recall the straightforward rock of a simpler era - storming through 14 tracks in just 39 minutes.

"If a song is longer than three and a half minutes, it'll need something to keep you entertained," he said.

Watch the video for Lightning Bolt

DISCLOSURE - SETTLE

Known to their parents as Guy and Howard, the Lawrence brothers are more familiar to dance fans as Disclosure.

Their debut album marries tear-drenched soul melodies to spidery basslines and the novelty noises - "poing" - that used to crop up in Craig David songs in 1999.

The Surrey duo employed guest vocalists such as Jessie Ware and AlunaGeorge to bring the tracks to life - and rewarded them by scribbling over their faces in Tipp-Ex on the artwork (that's the brothers on the album cover, though).

Many compared the album's sonic adventures to the first Basement Jaxx record, although some carped that the nods to Chicago's deep house scene of the 1990s were less than original.

Guy was defiant - acknowledging the band's interest in, and debt to, house music but protesting they made "pop songs".

"We didn't get too heavily involved in making beats," he told Dummy Magazine. "We focussed more on the structure of the songs and how to write melodies and lyrics."

Watch the video for White Noise

FOALS - HOLY FIRE

Holy Fire is the third album from cerebral indie saviours Foals and comes three years after the Mercury-nominated Total Life Forever.

In the six years since their debut, the Oxford band, led by the diminutive and lustrously bearded Yannis Philliakis have carved themselves out a niche as the thinking music fan's favourite band.

Cultivated, yet utterly and mesmerisingly chaotic in their live shows, Foals continue to impress critics with their particularly British brand of music. They're as comfortable playing small underground venues as they are on stage at the Royal Albert Hall or headlining the Latitude festival.

"We are playing better than we ever have before, we feel like the shows are the best they've ever been," guitarist Jimmy Smith told the BBC.

The angular, spiky guitars of old have been joined by a altogether fuller, warmer sound. The album's lead single, Inhaler, has a driving epic quality worthy of a stadium rock band.

A BBC review said: "The kids - which Foals were at their outset - have grown up splendidly. You might say they've become a true thoroughbred outfit".

Watch Foals highlights of Foals at Glastonbury.

JON HOPKINS - IMMUNITY

Immunity is the fourth solo album from London-based electronic composer, producer and re-mixer, Jon Hopkins, who is best-known for his collaborations with Brian Eno and Coldplay.

NME praised Immunity as an "expertly paced" album that "resemble the peaks and troughs of an epic night out, the first half... is a continuous build to the crunching nine-minute techno opus of Collider, before the second half winds down to the title track, which features the mollifying vocals of King Creosote, another frequent collaborator".

Diamond Mine, his collaboration with King Creosote, was previously longlisted for the Mercury Prize in 2011.

Hopkins was a childhood musical prodigy, studying classical piano at the Royal College of Music from the age of 12, but turned his attention to contemporary music at 17.

After being introduced by a mutual friend, he started working with Eno on his Another Day On Earth album, and has continued to work with him on collaborations including the Lovely Bones soundtrack for director Peter Jackson.

In 2007 he was introduced to Coldplay by Eno and he earned a production credit on Viva La Vida, while his track, Light Through The Veins, served as both intro and outro for the album.

Watch the video for Immunity

LAURA MARLING - ONCE I WAS AN EAGLE

Laura Marling enjoys her third Mercury nomination for Once I Was an Eagle. She is 23-years-old.

Let's just say that again... at the tender age of 23, Laura Marling has recorded and released four studio albums, three of which - including her debut Alas, I cannot Swim, released just after her 18th birthday, have been nominated for one of the most prestigious music awards the UK has to offer.

The fact she has not yet won says more about the strength of competition in those years rather than any serious oversight on the part of the judges, beaten as she was by popular favourite Elbow and The xx.

Imbued with some kind of preternatural maturity that belies her young age, Marling's astute and searingly honest lyricism has become a hallmark of her music. Her warm, rich Joni Mitchell-meets-Carole King voice hides dark and disturbing imagery which gives her a world-weary, often cynical edge.

In his five-star review for the Telegraph, Neil McCormick praised her "uniqueness... a coolly cerebral quality that maintains tension between her poised singing and playing and the deep, dark depths of her fierce and sensual songs".

Marling recently composed the music for a production of Shakespeare's As You Like It at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. She told the BBC: "Because it's a comedy, I'm not known for my light-heartedness. My natural inclination is towards melancholy, I had to find a balance".

Watch Laura Marling sing Master Hunter on Later With... Jools Holland

LAURA MVULA - SING TO THE MOON

Read any up-to-date biography of Birmingham-born singer-songwriter Laura Mvula and you are sure to get the basics: Conservatoire degree in composition; former receptionist for Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; supply teacher etc, etc...

Hopefully you will also read about her beautifully complex, layered and spiritually uplifting debut album Sing To the Moon that currently holds a score of 73 on Metacritic, and that the Independent on Sunday said "creates an extraordinary sensation of light, air and space".

An album which astonishes - from the dancefloor-filling and festival-crowd-pleasing Green Garden, to the defiant That's Alright and the heartbreaking Father, Father - about forgiving an absent parent. She sounds as if someone from outer space cross-cloned Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and Bjork, with a touch of Adele and Elton John thrown in for good measure.

She was named fourth in the BBC's annual Sound of... poll of music experts.

Mvula stole a mid-afternoon slot at Glastonbury's Pyramid Stage in an equally scene-stealing white, haute couture dress and matching stilettos. She followed it up with a rousing performance at the inaugural Classic Urban Prom at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Not bad for a singer who admitted performing live left her sick with nerves.

"I feel like I'm going to pass out before I go on and then when I'm on stage, I'll think, 'this is going to be over in a little bit, when are we going to do the next one?'"

Watch Laura Mvula perform Father, Father.

RUDIMENTAL - HOME

"We need some anthemic songs," Piers Agget told his bandmates last year.

Rudimental were on the road, dragged along by the success of their drum-and-bass-and-brass summer hit Feel The Love, before they'd had time to finish their debut album.

Recording as they went, the Londoners quickly realised they wanted to capture the euphoria of their live shows on record.

Studying tapes of James Brown, Sly Stone and Basement Jaxx, they came up with a sound that married live funk to soul vocals, and spliced it with the OTT builds and drops of dance.

"One of the most surprising things about this album is that no-one has done it before," wrote Mixmag.

The result? A number one album stuffed with hands-in-the-air anthems and a never-ending summer of festival slots.

"We're loving every moment of it," Amir Amor told the BBC at Glastonbury. "We're like a bunch of kids on a school trip who've shaken off the teacher."

Watch the video for Waiting All Night

SAVAGES - SILENCE YOURSELF

"Colossal riffs. Deeply important eyebrows. It's got 'cult classic' written all over it," wrote the NME, in an 8/10 review of Savages' debut album.

The four-piece female post-punk guitar band were formed in 2011 by Ayse Hassan (bass), Fay Milton (drums), Gemma Thompson (guitar) and Frenchwoman Jehnny Beth (vocals).

They made the longlist for the BBC Sound of 2013 where it was remarked "in terms of underground hype, few bands of the past 12 months have matched the fevered buzz" that surrounded the London-based quartet.

Compared to 80s indie goth outfits Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division, the group nonetheless have their own manifesto - saying their songs "aim to remind us that human beings haven't evolved so much, that music can still be straight to the point efficient and exciting".

Silence Yourself was released in May and opens with an excerpt from the John Cassavetes film Opening Night.

Watch the video for I Am Here

VILLAGERS - {AWAYLAND}

{Awayland} is the second album from Irish indie/folk band Villagers.

They were short-listed for the Mercury Prize in 2010 for their debut album, Becoming a Jackal.

Critics were wowed by singer-songwriter Conor O'Brien's dark, intense and deeply personal lyrics and the track Becoming a Jackal won the Ivor Novello award for best song musically and lyrically in 2011.

The band have supported Neil Young and toured across Europe with Tracy Chapman.

{Awayland} has been hailed "a masterful work of poetic dexterity and musical invention" in The Telegraph, describing O'Brien as "one of the strongest new lyrical voices to have emerged in recent years, with something of the fluid, philosophical surface playfulness of Paul Simon and the poetic depths of Joni Mitchell".

While NME's review said O'Brien's "smiling-through-tears vocal, that makes him sound like he's going to explode with sorrow or joy at any minute, is extraordinary".

Watch the video for Nothing Arrived

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