OxStu Music on the 2013 Mercury Music Prize


This Wednesday saw the UK’s most prestigious music award, the Mercury Prize, handed out for the 22nd time in an award ceremony that gathered together the great and the good of British music to celebrate the year’s best albums. As the only major event of its kind that actually rewards quality artists, it will, as ever, become a talking point among music fans for weeks to come. Not clued up on the nominees? No matter: we’ve got all the info you need to blag your way through the conversation.

The Next Day – David Bowie

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The Next Day is fascinating for the way that Bowie directly interacts with his own sonic universe. Just look at the cover for a start, then there’s the reminiscence of the Berlin days on the single ‘Where Are We Now’ and aren’t the closing drums on ‘You Feel So Lonely You Could Die’ exactly the same as the opening of 5 Years? The point of the album is not so much to ‘break new ground’ but to find heightened expression where every note summons up a world of connotations. The Next Day is just that, not a standalone statement, but another step out into space.

Lewis Coenen-Rowe


{Awayland} – Villagers

villagersokSimply put, {Awayland} is proof that Conor O’Brien has avoided the second album syndrome. After touring the understated but commanding Becoming a Jackal, O’Brien nonetheless felt that ‘there wasn’t enough depth’ in his material – a problem resolved in {Awayland}. Synths, strings, organs, pianos and buzzing electric guitars whir around O’Brien’s still central, but accompanied, guitar lines as the album passes through the pulsing groove of ‘Passing a Message’, the anthemic climax of ‘Nothing Arrived’ and the jaunty canter of Rhythm Composer. O’Brien’s melancholic, defiant lyrics remain and, combined with this new musical variety and complexity, leave {Awayland} a worthy contender for this prestigious prize.

Dominic Pollard


Silence Yourself – Savages

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Of all the records gathered together for this competition, no other album even comes close to the all-out assault of Silence Yourself. It is a command, the first song tells you: ‘Shut Up’. You have to pay attention to what Savages have to say, because it’s important. Sound pretentious? It is, and thank God. Because while every other band plays it safe, Savages take the artistic risks that show it’s really worth doing. Silence Yourself isn’t just theoretically direct, their songs are awesome blasts of pure energy. It’s the only record on the shortlist that approaches music like it truly matters to society and for that alone, it wins my backing.

Sachin Croker


Once I Was An Eagle- Laura Marling

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Those of us left speechless by Laura Marling’s snubbing at the hands of the Mercury Prize judges for Alas I Cannot Swim and sophomore offering I Speak Because I Can will have been awaiting this year’s result with nervous hope. Once I Was An Eagle is Marling’s plainest record yet, in her own words. However, the truly extraordinary aspect of this album is this; through songs placed in a specific order, we can see the speaker experience a genuine character development from self-consciously level-headed determination to falling into naivety all over again. Even if this year is not Laura’s, then we can take solace in the knowledge that, at only 23, we have so much more to look forward to from her.

Alex Bragg


AM – Arctic Monkeys

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The Arctic Monkeys have made the best highly listenable pop-rock record on the list (sorry Foals). AM is sexier, leaner, and more muscular than their previous work. The melodies are exceptional here; ‘Knee Socks’, the standout track, features gorgeous guitar interplay and an indelible bass line. Slinky, bass-driven single ‘Why D’You Only Call Me When You’re High’ was prompted by Alex Turner’s desire to ‘sound like Dr Dre’ on this record. This might be a stretch, and Turner still gives a vocal performance reminiscent of the scamp that emerged from Sheffield in a ball of hype in 2006. But to my ears at least, this is their best since their debut.

Harry Chancellor


Holy Fire – Foals

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With Holy Fire, Foals have made an assured move into the mainstream of rock. It still has that old Foals feel: the spiky guitar riffs, the scuzzy bass and the detached voice of lead singer Yannis Philippakis are consistent throughout the album. But there’s definitely been a shift. With Holy Fire, Foals have gone from cryptic lyrics to understandable ones, from sweaty, cramped venues to wide-open arenas and from daytime to nighttime festival spots. NME claims that “it feels as if there is no arena, stadium or field big enough to contain the songs on Holy Fire. Let’s not get carried away. Many of the songs on the album feel like they’ve been on more than one episode of Made in Chelsea. The album also trails off in its second half with the three strongest songs, “Inhaler”, “My Number” and “Late Night” all coming in the first half of the album.  That being said, Holy Fire has enough scope and quality to secure Foals commercial success for the next year.

Jacob Lee


Settle – Disclosure

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Howard and Guy Lawrence, the young brothers comprising Disclosure, have generated an almost impossible amount of controversy for their debut LP, Settle. Swarms of battle-weary electronic music fans on the Internet decried the duo’s shameless appropriation of U.K. garage, house, and grime elements. The Lawrence brothers wouldn’t disagree. Much as Daft Punk accomplished in borrowing disco music’s cheesiest tropes on Discovery, Disclosure reinvigorates the contemporary dance music landscape by bringing the soul and funk back. Through fourteen resolutely infectious tracks featuring deep synths, staccato machine drumming, and some fantastic guest singers, Settle never surrenders its visceral clutch. Disclosure challenges “bro-step” and sterile Electronic Zoo EDM producers to make us feel again. With Settle, we’re beginning to see just what happens when a fire starts to burn.

David Bessel


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