Mercury Prize 2017: who they missed and who should win
- Arusa Qureshi
- 27 July 2017
Sampha's album Process is on the shortlist for the Mercury Prize 2017
Six acts that should have taken Sheeran's spot on the shortlist
The Mercury Prize is described as one of the world's most prestigious music prizes, annually drawing attention to the best music that the UK has to offer. Though the prize has been criticised in past years for its failure to include certain genres, it's also been partly responsible for bringing grime into the mainstream, with Dizzee Rascal taking home the prize in 2013 and more recently, Skepta's big win in 2016. It's true that no shortlist will ever be perfect but generally speaking, the Mercury prize has done well in past years to achieve a good balance between relative up-and-comers and well-established heavyweights.
This year's shortlist, though on the most part excellent, features one tiny (or mammoth, depending on how you look at it) drawback. That Ed Sheeran has been nominated not only highlights a shift in the focus of the prize from a celebration of creativity and virtuosity in contemporary music to something that takes more notice of commercial success and popularity than it perhaps should. Sheeran's ÷ might have sold more than 2 million copies in the UK, but can it really be placed in comparison to the other shortlisted albums, which include genre-defying debuts and worthy past winners? How can a prize that supports innovation in British music possibly consider Sheeran as an innovative artist in 2017? Furthermore, with the Mercury prize usually contributing to a boost in sales for nominated artists, it's fair to say that this may be a wasted, publicity-driven slot, which a genuinely deserving artist could have taken up and benefitted from greatly.
With that in mind, we've chosen our top picks of artists that we would have liked to have seen on this year's shortlist, all of which could have easily replaced Ed Sheeran.
Bonobo – Migration
Simon Green aka Bonobo has been releasing music since the early 2000s, gradually becoming a fast-favourite for his production work and hypnotic live sets. Migration, his sixth studio album, could be his best work yet, with Green's skilful and refined songwriting fusing perfectly with his trademark downtempo electronica, bringing a focus to his innate ability to build ambience.
Marika Hackman – I'm Not Your Man
Although it's nice to see her backing band The Big Moon on the shortlist, Marika Hackman's I'm Not Your Man should have been on there too. The follow-up to her 2015 debut showed real progression in terms of composition but it also signalled a move towards a more adventurous and confident sound thanks in part to Hackman's wry and bold discussion of themes like femininity and sexual identity. Hackman's sarcasm in particular shines through beautifully on tracks like 'Boyfriend' and 'My Lover Cindy'.
Richard Dawson – Peasant
Richard Dawson's sixth solo album takes the singer-songwriter to new heights, with the album being described as a song cycle 'set somewhere between 500 and 700, after the slow withdrawal of the Roman Empire from the north east'. It's a sometimes uncomfortable look at the past with hints of arrangements and instrumentation inspired by the Middle Ages and plenty of stunning moments, as Dawson takes on varying perspectives. For its innovative and moving qualities, Peasant would have been a prime addition to the Mercury shortlist.
Swet Shop Boys – Cashmere
The transatlantic hip hop duo are arguably one of the most exciting acts around right now. Made up of Riz MC (Riz Ahmed of Star Wars and The Night Of fame) and Heems (formerly of Das Racist), the Swet Shop Boys deliver witty and politically charged raps, influenced by music from the South Asian diaspora with discussions of issues like racial profiling and Trump's America. Cashmere, their debut, places a spotlight on South Asian identity through both charismatic and humorous verses and more serious insights into what it's like to be a brown person in the world today.
Kelly Lee Owens – Kelly Lee Owens
Synth-pop musician Kelly Lee Owens may be best known for her vocal contributions to Daniel Avery's Drone Logic LP but her self-titled debut proves that she is a star in her own right. Featuring elements of her 2015 Lucid / Arthur EP, the album is a mellow and sweetly atmospheric release with Owens' experimental and techno-based production making a huge impact alongside her quietly powerful vocal lines.
Forest Swords – Compassion
Electronic musician Forest Swords has a knack for creating ethereal, fully-engrossing instrumental music that stays with you for some time. Compared to previous releases, Compassion is more daring in its structure and inception, making use of a range of instruments and sounds from around the world. It emphasises Forest Swords' expert use of sampled content which fits hand in hand with his massive drone-heavy build-ups and minimalist percussion.
Who should win: Sampha – Process
Back in January when we reviewed Sampha's debut, we described it as 'an archive of emotional shift as well as musical growth'. As a musician that is known for lending his vocals and production to the projects of numerous other acts, Process is Sampha's chance to allow everyone to fully see what he's capable of as an artist. It's an album full of intensity and reflection, from the urgency of second single 'Blood on Me' to the soft and pensive '(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano'. Above all else, it's an emotional and vulnerable release that places Sampha firmly ahead of many of his contemporaries.
alt-j – Relaxer
Blossoms – Blossoms
Dinosaur – Together, As One
Ed Sheeran – ÷
Glass Animals – How to Be a Human Being
J Hus – Common Sense
Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos
Loyle Carner – Yesterday's Gone
Sampha – Process
Stormzy – Gang Signs & Prayer
The Big Moon – Love in the 4th Dimension
The xx – I See You
The winner of the Mercury Prize is announced Thu 14 sep