2009 Mercury Music Prize shortlist on show

Mercury Music Prize

Whether it goes to The Horrors and Bat For Lashes, nomination alone should be benefit enough for this year's contenders

This past year has seen Elbow prove to all just what a Mercury win can do to a band's career. Though toiling for near 15 years in relative indie obscurity, seemingly destined to never play the arenas their songs merited, their 2008 victory for fourth album The Seldom Seen Kid, saw them catapulted to a level only the likes of mum rock favourites Coldplay and Snow Patrol have enjoyed in recent years. And amazingly, they've done it with critical respect and dignity intact.

Looking at this year's nominees though, it's hard to see any of the 12 acts attaining that sort of stature in the British music scene. But that isn't what this year's Mercury Prize seems to be about.

Forsaking the stalwarts like Madness (who released one of the best albums of their career in the last 12 months) and Doves, this is the Mercury's going back to its roots, looking to bring fresh, young talent to the fore. And Kasabian.

Indeed, seven of the 12 nominees are debut performances, including List favourites, Glasvegas. The hype, and inevitable backlash from the more critical muso may go against their favour though, even if they did make an album of real raw power and integrity.

'Hype' is an ugly word too for both Friendly Fires and Florence and the Machine, two acts trying to unite an indie audience with the dance crowd in their own unique ways. It's the sound 2009 has been about, and with the Mercury always one to follow a trend (see Klaxons, Franz Ferdinand, Portishead), neither would be a surprise to reign victorious in September. Expect neither to ever be heard of again if they do mind.

Less hyped debuts include the brilliant Speech Therapy by Speech Debelle – the UK's shining light in female hip-hop. Her natural beats, and girl-next-door vocals (think Kate Nash, but with more honesty and less incitement to rip off your ears) set her apart from her contemporaries, as she becomes that bridge between Winehouse and Dizzee Rascal. We've had five years of white male indie picking up the prize – surely it's time to break that run?

Natasha Khan's Bat For Lashes is also in the running to have a go. Nominated in 2007 for her debut Fur and Gold, her second full-length, Two Suns, improved on every aspect, and she's now a favourite with the bookies. Her attempts to ape Bjork will surely impress a panel of judges desperate to seem on the cutting-edge too.

Completing a very strong line-up of female-fronted acts (though no Little Boots?!) are androgynous superstar, La Roux, and Damien Rice's former hire-a-female-voice, Lisa Hannigan. La Roux was always going to be nominated since the industry decided she was going to be 2009's big thing six months ago, but Hannigan is a pleasant surprise, with her Irish folk style a sign of the award's diversity.

More diversity comes from the token jazz act of Led Bib, whose sales for Sensible Shoes, must surely now be going through the roof. Their new fans should be delighted with a fun, witty, sax-filled collection of upbeat avant-garde funk. An outside bet for the prize though as always in this category though.

The Invisible too offer something different and less well-known, with an album of danceable hip-hop influenced by TV on the Radio and Talking Heads. Again, not a likely contender however.

I'd have some hope in Sweet Billy Pilgrim though, who recall a less menacing Slint or more talkative Tortoise, with accessible but still often glorious post-rock that brings to mind that confusing void amidst dreams and reality as your morning alarm goes off. A proper delight that's been brought to wider attention, and some consolation for a lack of recognition for the brilliant Until the Earth Begins to Part by Broken Records.

It's The Horrors though that will be many people's favourites. With universal agreement from critics and fans that these are no longer the annoying, scenester morons who hid behind haircuts - all dreams of being on The Mighty Boosh and wearing skin tight jeans. Two years has seen a lot of change, both in second names (Farris Rotter to Badwan) and quality, with their second album, Primary Colours, showing off their very respectable influences, and very assured talents. And their My Bloody Valentine inspired latest effort is certainly worthy of a nomination. To win though?

For the lucky 12, most will say that a nomination is enough. Underneath though will be a desire to pick up that prize (and handsome cheque) of an award restored to some credibility. Who it will be is still anyone's guess. The only certainty is the ginormity of the task they have ahead of them trying to emulate the success of last year's victors.

See the full shortlist and listen to the albums now in Spotify.