TagMercury Prize

Mercury Prize: Glasvegas – Glasvegas

Video: ‘Geraldine’

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First, the name. Glasvegas, it will not surprise you to learn, are from Glasgow; but their name is more than a throwaway pun – to me, it sums up the essence of their songs: a combination of grit and escapism. Their lyrics touch on harsh social realities, but the music is far from dour: this is big, epic indie-rock.

My favourite three songs on the album (all released as singles) illustrate this contrast well. There’s ‘Geraldine’, which paints a heroic portrait of a social worker; and ‘Daddy’s Gone’, an optimistic tale of someone getting over their father’s absenteeism and making a new start. Perhaps best of all, though, is the stunning ‘Flowers and Football Tops’, a seven-minute track sung from the viewpoint of a parent whose son has been killed. It’s a sweeping anthem that closes with an adaptation of ‘You Are My Sunshine’, which brings out a tender side to James Allan’s vocals.

There are no songs on Glasvegas that don’t work; if there’s a problem, it’s the same as with the Friendly Fires record – a little too much similarity in the songs over the course of a whole album. But, as I said, I’ve no gripes with the individual tracks; and there are a couple which are a real departure from the rest – ‘Stabbed’, a spoken-word piece which is as stark as its title; and the near-ambient ‘Ice Cream Van’, which ends the album on a call for unity.

The sound of Glasvegas is quite traditional, yes; but the album has a big heart and a social conscience. It’s a joy to listen to.

Video: ‘Daddy’s Gone’ (live)

Read my other Mercury Prize 2009 posts here.

Mercury Prize: Friendly Fires – Friendly Fires

Video: ‘Skeleton Boy’

Friendly Fires are a band from St Albans whose music falls somewhere between dance and rock. Their début album is a set of ten slick numbers just as suited to an indie disco as to listening at home.

Opener ‘Jump in the Pool’ sets the standard, with frenetic beats in the verses, and a chorus that floats along in between. Great stuff. The rest is essentially variations on that theme, but with a good amount of variety for all that. The band try their hand at a number of different styles, whilst maintaining a distinctive Friendly Fires sound. Ed Macfarlane is not that great a singer, but that’s not so important for music of this nature, and his voice fits in just fine. Out of all ten songs, I’d say that only ‘On Board’, though it bounces along nicely to begin with, ultimately outstays its welcome. Generally speaking, however, it all comes together well.

The thing is, though… I find myself flagging by the last couple of tracks. This is no reflection on the quality of the songs themselves, but it does make me think that Friendly Fires’ music may be best appreciated in short bursts. Or maybe it depends on context, because I get a sense that they’d be great live. What I’m certain of is that the band sound as though they had a ball making this record – and their enthusiasm is infectious.

Video: ‘Paris’ (live)

Read my other Mercury Prize 2009 posts here.

Mercury Prize: Florence and the Machine – Lungs

Video: ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’

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I’m aiming to go through the Mercury shortlist in something approaching alphabetical order; and it’s interesting to be covering the album of Londoner Florence Welch straight after Bat for Lashes, because the two are in some ways the flipside of each other. Both have a kind of fairytale vibe running through their music; but if Natasha Khan’s work is ethereal and delicate, Florence and the Machine‘s is quite the opposite.

Lungs is a pretty appropriate album title, because Florence has a very powerful voice; unfortunately, she hasn’t yet figured out how to use it to best effect. Her songs build and build – but sometimes build too much, and it’s a fine line to tread. When she gets it right, the results are fabulous, as on ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’, which captures the epic atmosphere I think Florence is aiming for most of the time. Or ‘Between Two Lungs’, which is about as close as the album gets to a ballad, and has a similar widescreen feel, but more held in.

The problem, though, is that Florence has a tendency to overdo it. So we get songs like the swing-style ‘Girl With One Eye’, which is oversung to the extent that it’s quite a trial to listen to; or ‘Kiss With a Fist’, which cranks up the noise in an attempt at straightforward punk-pop but ends up sounding pretty drab compared to the rest of the album. In sum, Lungs is promising, but it could have done with more subtlelty.

Video: ‘Dog Days Are Over’ (live)

Read my other Mercury Prize 2009 posts here.

Mercury Prize: Bat for Lashes – Two Suns

Video: ‘Pearl’s Dream’

Bat for Lashes is Brighton’s Natasha Khan, whose first album was nominated for the Mercury Prize back in 2007 (but didn’t win). I’ve often meant to give her music a proper listen; this marks the first time I have heard one of her albums in full. And… Khan has a beautiful voice that suits her style of music perfectly; Two Suns is epic, diverse, mysterious, full of texture – all these are things that I like in music. Yet the maddening question that kept niggling me as I listened to the album was: why am I not enjoying this more?

Well, the song on Two Suns that I keep returning to is the lead single, ’Daniel’. It’s an absolutely fantastic song that sounds as though it came from the playlist of a high-school disco in the Land of Faerie – and knowing that it’s about the Karate Kid reduces its power not one bit. But it also sticks out like a sore thumb for me, because even after several listens to the album, it’s the only song on there that really stays in my mind properly.

Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t mean to say that the rest of Two Suns is forgettable, or leaves no impression – on the contrary, the album as a whole leaves a very strong (and favourable) impression. But the music I love best gets into my mind and stays there, comes back to the surface every now and then to be hummed or sung along  to. Two Suns is great while I’m listening to it, but most of it doesn’t stick afterwards.

I am impressed with the diversity of the album; it covers a lot more bases than I expected it would. There are many great moments: the way that ‘Glass’ builds from a simple a cappella vocal to a thudding crescendo; and the soulful call-and-response of ‘Peace of Mind’, to name just two… I like Two Suns very much, but I don’t love it. And I very nearly loved it, which is what frustrates me all the more.

Video: ‘Sleep Alone’ – live

Read my other Mercury Prize 2009 posts here.

Mercury Prize 2009 shortlist

The Mercury Prize is upon us once again and, since I had such fun blogging the shortlist last year, I’m going to do it all again this year. The shortlist has been announced today; so, without further ado, here it is:

Bat for Lashes – Two Suns
Florence and the Machine – Lungs
Friendly Fires – Friendly Fires
Glasvegas – Glasvegas
The Horrors – Primary Colours
The Invisble – The Invisible
Kasabian – West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum
La Roux – La Roux
Led Bib – Sensible Shoes
Lisa Hannigan – Sea Sew
Speech Debelle – Speech Therapy
Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Twice Born Men

Now, that is an interesting list, not least because I don’t even know what half of it sounds like; actually, I’ve listened to precisely none of these albums all the way through.

Still, some initial observations:

There’s a distinct lack of any really big names, certainly more so than last year.

Historically, the Mercury shortlists (and winners) have been dominated by male acts; this year  the shortlist is almost  a fifty-fifty split between male and female, and the favourites to win are all female.

As for the nominees themselves: there have been quite a few hotly-tipped female acts to emerge this year; they’re represented here by La Roux and Florence and the Machine. I’ve yet to hear anything by either of them which is as good as Little Boots, but time will tell.

Of all the established ‘indie’ bands who released albums in the past year, I would not have anticipated that Kasabian would be the one to make it on to the shortlist, but that’s all part of the fun of the Mercury.

Friendly Fires and Glasvegas are both new ‘indie’ bands: I’ve heard a couple of songs by the former, which I quite liked; I know I’ve listened to the latter, but can’t remember what they’re like.

Bat for Lashes is the only one of this year’s shortlist to have been nominated previously. I’ve meant to listen to her album properly, and now I will get around to it — likewise Lisa Hannigan’s album.

The Horrors are on their second album; I’ve heard of them, but don’t know what they sound like.

The rest, I’d never even heard of until today. I gather that Speech Debelle is a female rapper, and Led Bib are a jazz act. I’m going to let the sound of The Invisible and Sweet Billy Pilgrim be a surprise.

Normally, I would not get into the game of ‘X should have nominated instead of Y’, because I don’t know the nominated albums and am in no position to judge things like that (yet). But there is one album I’ve heard this year that I thought could match up to The Seldom Seem Kid, and that’s Doves’ Kingdom of Rust (I meant to blog about it before now, and still plan to at some point). It’s a shame not to see that album in contention for the Mercury; but maybe there’s an album on the shortlist which is as good. I’m looking forward to finding out.

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