Returning for its 21st year, the Mercury Award for Best Album has rolled around again with an even more eclectic mix of genres and sounds than last year. With less than two weeks to go before the prize is awarded, there’s a noticeable buzz surrounding the names on the shortlist. From indie folk massive Florence and the Machine to new face SOAK, there’s been a huge increase in the number of UK female artists represented this year. A grand total of five (almost 50%!) out of 12 shortlisted this year are albums from female artists or female fronted bands compared to only two or three maximum in each of the last few years. It’s great to see new names rolling onto the scene alongside the old musical heavyweights (Ghostpoet has been nominated for the award for both of his albums).
Though the Mercury Awards are known to champion the debut album, with seven of the shortlist both this year and last year being the artist’s first, unlike previous years there’s been a noticeable increase in entirely new names on the scene. Whilst Wolf Alice’s phenomenally successful debut My Love is Cool was released following the unprecedented and drawn out success of 3 or 4 years worth of EPs and singles (not to mention non-stop touring with the likes of Drenge, The 1975, and Peace), South London’s Eska has only recently made a large name for herself despite releasing a debut EP in 2013. Zimbabwean born and with an undeniable multi-instrumental talent her folky sound and soulful voice brings a different dimension to the types of music represented in the awards.
SOAK at just 19 is a singer-songwriter from small town Derry in Northern Ireland, tentatively releasing singles since 2013, she started touring record stores this year, making it to London’s flagship HMV in Oxford Street, and now she’s soared onto a headline tour at wildly bigger venues including London’s KOKO and Bristol’s Fleece. Soak’s mellow and personal songs stand in stark contrast to Florence’s energetic ballads. From Coachella to Glastonbury, her third album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful dominated music festivals across the globe this summer with bewitching sounds. Meanwhile Róisín Murphy album Hairless Toys, also her third, offers in contrast crisp hooks in her “elegant and shimmering pop songs”.
(Photo credit: http://www.mercuryprize.com/)
Chairman of the judges Simon Frith has said that this year’s Mercury Prize “celebrates artists from every stage of their careers” and “from a fascinating variety of musical places, cultures, and histories.” After the social media backlash this summer against the noticeably male-heavy lineups of the UKs major festivals (looking at you, Reading and Leeds), the variety covered in the awards this year is a refreshing turn and much more representative of the public’s musical tastes as a whole. Given the huge amount of female talent, hopefully this year will see the first female Mercury Prize winner since Ms Dynamite in 2002.