The Mercury Prize shortlist was announced recently, and this year’s list is certainly a solid selection of records with some absolute standouts. As an alternative, we present our own dozen picks of UK releases from the same time period; here is this year’s Neutron Prize shortlist!
Bob Vylan Presents: The Price Of Life
Bob Vylan’s Bob Vylan Presents: The Price Of Life is an album that refuses to hold back both in its subject matter and in its sound, which seems to be somewhat of an ethos for the duo, and acts as a full frontal assault on those in power for wealth-based inequality, racism, and classism.
It is a culmination of the pair’s varying influences in terms of genre, which coalesces into what can only be described as an unbridled rage. ‘Take That’ refuses to lift the boot from the necks of the oppressors for a moment’s breath whilst the track makes use of some of the pair’s more electronic influences. Whereas other tracks can be heard to include dashes of both Britpop and Grime, as well as an obvious underlying punk anger that runs right the way through the course of the album. But this anger is most notably witnessed on ‘Bait The Bear‘. This snarling anthem is just one of the tracks that seems to encompass everything Bob Vylan stands for and is perhaps the best provider of the narrative intended for this album. This, in turn, helps to provide the red mist that seems to descend as each track begins its siege on the broken system that the duo holds to account.
Bob Vylan Presents: The Price Of Life’ is an unapologetic album that has its fangs sunk deeply into the jugulars of every target you can imagine, and is a demonstration that Bob Vylan’s edge certainly hasn’t been blunted. So, at a time where there seems to be plenty of things to be worth getting angry about, Bob Vylan’s rage is certainly worth recognising. (Josh Allen)
Beabadoobee – Beatopia
Beabadoobee invites you into her lucid dream with her spellbinding album, Beatopia. Liberated from genre restraints, this record takes the listener on a cathartic trip into the multifaceted recesses of her world, between dreaming and waking, dissonance and clarity, confession and defiance, reflection and triumph. Beatopia is a celebration of the wonders of self-acceptance. The fourteen songs on the album traverse a full spectrum of emotions and genres making the listener feel like they have been on a cathartic journey. When asked at Glastonbury Festival about what she wanted people to get out of the album, Bea said. “Sonically I want people to feel like they have been on a massive trip and if they come out of it feeling like they were in some kind of lucid dream, then I’ve done my job.” So wrap yourself in the warm hazy world of Beatopia. This is probably the soundtrack to your summer. Enjoy your trip! (Carmel Walsh)
Benji Wild – Skull and Bones
Released last year, Benji Wild‘s brilliant debut album Skull and Bones was a masterclass in urgently prescient and personal Welsh grime, hip hop colliding with elements of crunching post-punk and soul, forged in the white heat of his upbringing in Cardiff. it was a standout release from the burgeoning Welsh MOBO scene in Wales in 2021. ‘On Job’ skittering beats and strutting keys, samples and guitar slashes, are supercharged by Benji’s confident and fiery flow he sounds like a man on a mission and refuelled to take on injustice inspired by the tragic death of Mohamud Mohammed Hassan. The title track is another highlight, carved out of soulful backdrops, on which Wild delivers an urgent and intense flow about the dichotomy of living, encapsulating the struggle of every day life, injustice on the streets, the power of creativity versus the pressure to create more and more content. Personal, knowing and witty, this is immense stuff. During his formative years Benji threw himself into music and discovered that music was the only future he could see. “I’ve poured everything into this debut album. My upbringing, the good and the bad times, and hopefully people will connect. Feels a long time in the making, but I know the real journey is only just about to begin.’” It has paid off, handsomely. (Bill Cummings)
Black Midi – Hellfire
Hellfire showcases Black Midi’s strongest set of lyrics yet. It sounds like many of the songs started as words with the music built up around them. This seems like the reverse of Schlagenheim, where the four original members (including the exceptionally talented Matt Kwasneiwski-Kelvin) jammed and jammed until they struck aural gold.
Hellfire certainly has a lot more spunk than the jazzy Cavalcade, but not as much as Schlagenheim, characterised by its explosive post-rock and math-rock leanings. Black Midi make music for themselves and don’t give a shit what the critics think about it. I wouldn’t want it any other way. (Jonathan Chadwick)
The Bug – Fire
Wilfred Owen’s first world war poem – Anthem for Doomed Youth springs to mind when listening to Fire. Thematically and musically doom and war are written all over this album. The album opens with the spoken word imaginings of a dystopian post-pandemic (not too distant) future and ends with a track inspired by and dedicated to the victims of Grenfell tower.
Themes of wealth disparity between elite ‘aristocrats’ and, well, the rest of us are at the core of this album’s message. On ‘Pressure,‘ veteran grime MC Flowdan raps “While we a hunt for the food and them a argue about tax/People are dead, mum’s still crying/The fire’s gonna blaze on these aristocrats.” These sentiments are accompanied by The Bug’s apocalyptic beats which fluctuate between drawn-out, air raid-like sirens and horns (sometimes at the forefront of tracks such as ‘Vexxed”‘ but also often overlaid surreptitiously across tracks) Dub Phizix-style dark jungle, heavy bass, and ragga rhythms.
On ‘Bomb‘ guitars play out with a crescendo of harsh noise. In terms of the musical journey Fire takes listeners on, it evokes a similar dark, underbelly of anger and revolt as Run the Jewels’ 2020 album RTJ4 did.
Fire is a chilling album for it conjures a world devoid of chaos and destruction, as gongs, sirens, and ambient drones all form to create a state of emergency, elite hierarchy meets a knowing soundtrack that faces a stand-off in its awareness that there “is no light at the end of the tunnel”. It is a record that embodies grief for the many who have already died due to the intrinsic, banal conceit of institutional power. (Kate Haresnape)
Nilüfer Yanya – PAINLESS
There’s a great vibe to Nilüfer Yanya’s second album, PAINLESS. Right from the first track there’s a sense of looseness to its guitar grooves but with a total rhythm applied. Switching it up with overtly guitar-y throughlines and more subtle music, PAINLESS displays a real variety while sounding cohesive from start to finish. Check out the quiet contemplation of ‘Shameless’ and the electronic static centred ‘Chase Me’ for a taste of Nilüfer’s quality. There was a lot of pre-release hype to PAINLESS and on this occasion the actual album is fully deserving. Oh, and ‘try’ is a wonderful thing. (Max Mazonowicz)
Adwaith – Bato Mato
They say you have to go away to really find yourself, and sometimes clichés are true because with their trip into Siberia the trio have faced themselves and found a new direction. With their second record Adwaith have carved out their most formidable document yet and witnessing them grow as a group has been a pleasure. While confusion and uncertainty at the world may hang like a shadow over each vowel, this is the sound is of a band finding a new confidence, hitting their stride, cementing their place, with one of the finest Welsh language albums ever released. Make no mistake, Bato Mato is a superb second album from one of Wales’s best current bands. All aboard the Adwaith Express! (Bill Cummings)
Ghum – Bitter
These particular purveyors of gothic architectured guitar pop are far flung individuals. Mediterranean, sun-tinged vocals, Latino enhanced bass, cold, dark London streets and a communal love for the likes of The Cure, The Pixies, and Joy Division/New Order.
At nine tracks, Bitter doesn’t outstay its welcome, but neither is it short. It is just right. Laura Guerrero Loro is an engaging frontperson and this still manages to come through on record; her vocals are intense and theatrical, like she is trying to burst through the speakers at you. She sings because her life depends on it, like all the best singers.
A number of bands are ploughing the post-punk furrow but you feel like there is something special about Ghum. Extra ingredients that set them apart. They lurk in the shadows of the goth oeuvre but there’s a heat and emotion that’ll break the coldest of hearts. (Jim Auton)
Peaness – World Full of Worry
The trio of Jessica Branney (bass and vocals), Rachel Williams (drums) and Carleia Balbenta (guitar and vocals) produce music full of glorious harmonies, twangy indie guitars and deceptively relevant lyrics full of meaning and emotion.
World Full of Worry is an album packed full of self-flection, relationships and mid-twenties frustrations however it is not melancholy, quite the opposite. Peaness‘s hook-saturated, harmony-driven indie-pop songs are full of lightness and joy on the majority of their songs. They are out on the road in support of the album and their fun, friendship-fuelled live performances warm the heart. In a music scene dominated by post-punk, Peaness are a breath of fresh air.(Julia Mason)
Tom Emlyn – News From Nowhere
Former Bandicoot guitarist Tom Emlyn shows his songwriting chops on this, his debut solo album. Billed as a love letter to Swansea it may be, but there is nothing parochial about News From Nowhere, melding together folk with psych, indie and total guitar goodness with melody, melancholy and witty lyrical observations. With the reflective and pretty ‘Cover Band and Empire’, heart tugger ‘Throwaway’ – which is actually quite upsetting, but in a good way – the psych trip that is ‘Colourless’, layered stomper ‘Beaujolais Day’, indie pop goodness ‘Under The Street’, the spiky but melodic ‘Tommy Cooper’, Emlyn has produced an emotionally intelligent and stimulating record. (Cath Holland)
Pillow Queens – Leave the Light On
I imagine any band who has a successful debut album, particularly when it has been self-released, must feel a certain amount of pressure with album Number 2. Dublin’s Pillow Queens found themselves in such a situation. Their 2020 debut; In Waiting was a huge success resulting in such moments as their debut appearance on US television on The Late Late Show with James Corden performing their extraordinary track ‘Liffey’.
They needn’t have worried their second album Leave the Light On is a triumph, they produce music that grabs your gut and your heart at the same time. Opener ‘Be By My Side‘ is a perfect example. That guitar at the beginning of ‘The Wedding Band’ and in the middle of ‘Historian‘ gives the goosebumps we felt on ‘Liffey.‘ The gentler side of Pillow Queens is shown on this album in comparison with the more anthemic In Waiting. ‘My Body Moves’, and ‘House That Sailed Away’ show a softer side. ‘Hearts and Minds’ is a glorious soaring track full of emotive power and perhaps show Pillow Queens at their best.
Pillow Queens use their experience of a Catholic upbringing and being openly LGBT to inspire their songs. It’s not confrontational or preachy but more personal and observational. ‘Well Kept Woman‘ and ‘No Good Woman’ explore the challenges faced. Pillow Queens are quite simply a class act. (Julia Mason)
Cleo Sol – Mother
Cleo Sol has already gathered a strong following as one of the celebrated voices of the much-vaunted but never seen collective Sault. Her 2020 offering, Rose In The Dark, put her out there prominently as a force in her own right: a mellow force and a calm breath of fresh air in an increasingly stale and fraught world.
2021’s Mother feels yet more reassuring. It’s ‘salve for the soul’ neo-soul, an album of spacious, conspicuously lengthy tracks (up to eight minutes) in which you can feel most satisfyingly swathed. Even the album cover encourages you to sit back and take stock. Sol reclines on a roomy sofa in joggers, looking down the camera lens as a tiny infant sleeps soundly, sprawling on her chest. As anyone who has ever had a sleeping child using them as a mattress will know, there’s little you can do other than sit back and make yourself comfortable and comforting. Sometimes life pins you down, so why not make the best of it?
As Sol stated when the album was released, “I became a mother this year and it’s been the most transformative, uplifting, heart-melting, strength giving experience thus far that led me to write this album.” As well as her own adventures in motherhood, Sol uses the experience to reflect on her own mother’s presence and role, and ultimately how “Mothers don’t leave” on the track ‘Don’t Let Me Fall’.
It’s blissful without being euphoric. As much as the album is underpinned by love, it could never be accused of excessive sentiment; there’s love in its rounded and grounded sense, so there’s fear with the hope and responsibility within the pleasure. You’d have to possess a cold, deep blue heart to resist the embrace of Cleo Sol’s Mother. (Jon Kean)
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God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.
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