The chart-topping albums of Wolf Alice, Celeste and Mogwai feature in the nominations for the Mercury Award 2021, one of the UK’s most prestigious music awards.
On a diverse roster spanning jazz, soul, rap, electronic, contemporary classical, and more, albeit without folk or metal, other hit albums include those by veteran grime rapper Ghetts, indie soul singer Arlo Parks, and progressive septet Black Country . , New Road, all of which reached the Top 5 on the UK album chart in 2021.
But typically for the Mercury Award, which unlike the annual Brit Awards also champions artists from outside of the mainstream, there are plenty of options left, and 10 of the 12 artists have first-time nominated albums.
These artists include Hannah Peel for Fir Wave, a heady and vibrant electronic music album; saxophonist Nubya Garcia, a key player in London’s resurgent jazz scene, and Berwyn, the rap / R&B artist who has yet to make the UK Top 100, but is racking up considerable broadcast numbers and was included in the BBC Sound of 2021 poll.
Berwyn Dubois, 25, Trinidad-born and UK resident since the age of nine, who does not yet have a British passport, is the beneficiary of a recent change in the Mercury rule, which allows people who have resided in the UK or Ireland for more than five years to be eligible. The change, also adopted by the Brit awards, was made after a 2020 protest by Japanese-British pop singer Rina Sawayama, whose debut album was deemed ineligible because she did not have a British passport.
“I feel like my dream continues, this weird dream that I’m going to wake up from at any moment,” Berwyn said. He was nominated for his debut mixtape Demotape / Vega, which he did in “absolute shit, renting a room in a dorm [in east London]. It had the bare minimum in terms of equipment, the worst you can find, it didn’t even have a working pair of headphones. It just came out of blood, sweat and tears; of the overwhelming need to get out of the situation. “
Since then he has followed it with Tape2 / Fomalhaut, released in June, described as “an advanced version in terms of sound to its predecessor [with] the same amount of storytelling, honesty, humility and pain ”.
Versatile indie rockers Wolf Alice, who won the award in 2018 with Visions of a Life, are the only previous winners on the shortlist. All three of her albums have been nominated, beginning with My Love Is Cool in 2015.
All of Laura Mvula’s albums have now also been nominated for the award, with the nod of 2021 for Pink noise, a magnificent showcase of funk, R&B and pop dating back to the 1980s. The Birmingham-born singer’s previous nominations were Sing to the Moon in 2013 and The Dreaming Room in 2016.
Pink Noise was released in the last fortnight of eligibility: albums by British or Irish artists released between July 18, 2020 and July 16, 2021 inclusive are eligible. The winner receives £ 25,000.
“This feels familiar and yet it feels like I’ve lived nine lives since the last time,” said Mvula, who signed to a new record label for Pink Noise and made a stylistic change from the sound of her first two albums. “It means everything and nothing at the same time. It is always surprising to be publicly recognized. And yet, I know that what I am looking for when making music is something that goes far beyond wanting to feel accepted or defended. Music for me has always been a source of life. Of course, right now I am reveling in the excitement! But I know my favorite place is the room where I do things and, finally, the live stage. “
She says the embrace of ’80s funk came from “this pent up energy that comes from feeling locked in or labeled. The strange racial undertones of ‘Laura Mvula, educated and classically trained, is welcome.’ They often told me: Blacks don’t really listen to Laura Mvula. I always knew it was a lie, but the idea that I would be boxed in again: I didn’t want that for this job. I even excused myself with that: it was really comfortable to stay in my own lane.
“So I set out to reconnect with the music that I was raised with.” She quotes the Jacksons, James Brown, Sting, Peter Gabriel, and Earth, Wind & Fire. “I wanted to do something for myself that I could dance to and feel sexy when I danced, and still be moved by the way it moves me. [debut album] Sing to the moon. “
Despite Mogwai’s great critical acclaim and a discography of 10 studio albums and seven film and television soundtracks, the Scottish post-rock band had never before been recognized by Mercury. His nominated album As the Love Continues, released in February, became his first album to reach number 1 in the UK.
“I don’t think we really expected it,” said Stuart Braithwaite of the band. “Sometimes you think you exist in a different sphere of that world, so it’s a nice surprise.”
As the Love Continues was written during the first pandemic lockdown and registered in the summer of 2020; its American producer and engineer directed the recordings by video call. “It became a kind of crusade just to finish it,” says Braithwaite.
The album was then released during another lockdown pandemic in the UK. Braithwaite adds: “I have learned a lot from music and other arts such as literature and film. [during the pandemic]So having an album that people could get lost in when we’re all in a really tough situation might have helped people connect with it a little bit. “
One of the favorites for the award could be London-based producer Floating Points, for his collaborative album with 80-year-old saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra, Promises. Straddling jazz, classical and ambient music, it is one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year. Sanders is the oldest nominee and is eligible as part of the predominantly British group, despite his American citizenship.
Another likely favorite will be Sault, a mysterious neo-soul unit who has never fully revealed their identities, but does feature producer Inflo (who has worked with last year’s Mercury winner Michael Kiwanuka and 2019 nominee Little Simz). and singer Cleo Sol. The Guardian’s top rock and pop critic Alexis Petridis named his nominated album Untitled (Rise) the best of 2020. Sault has released five albums in three years, with Nine to be dropped. after 99 days, released earlier this month.
Acclaimed artists who missed a nomination include veterans such as Paul McCartney, Marianne Faithfull, Tom Jones and Shirley Collins; indie bands like Dry Cleaning, Sleaford Mods, Squid, Idles, Shame, Goat Girl, and Black Midi; rappers Headie One, Slowthai, Nines, and Digga D; pop singers Beabadoobee, Declan McKenna, Roísín Murphy and Ellie Goulding; and heavier groups like Bring Me the Horizon, Architects and Svalbard.
The Mercury Award 2021 Finalist List
Arlo Parks – Collapsed in sunbeams
Berwyn – Demotape / Vega
Black Country, New Road – For the first time
Light blue – Not your muse
Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra – promises
Ghettos – Conflict of interests
Hannah peel – Fir wave
Laura Mvula – Pink noise
Mogwai – As love goes on
Nubya garcia – Fountain
Sault – Untitled (upload)
Alice Wolf – Blue weekend
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism