The Alternative Guide To The Mercury Prize 2011

The nominees have been unveiled, now find out who looks like a Robert Palmer girl in the back of a spoon, whose album is the musical equivalent of one long cuddle and who is the natural heir to Mike Skinner's throne.
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PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

Genre-bending, multi-instrumentalist Polly Jean Harvey turned in a career-best performance with eighth album Let England Shake this year – some achievement considering her peerless back-catalogue which includes 2001's Mercury Prize winner, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.

Her strange tales of England at war are like being trapped in a Kinks song in the midst of a bad acid trip. "I've seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat / Blown and shot out beyond belief / Arms and legs were in the trees," she wails on The Words That Maketh Murder, the high-water mark on an album that is a beautiful cacophony of macabre lyrics and demented soundscapes.

Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi

If you took one of the girls from Robert Palmer's Addicted To Love video, smudged their makeup slightly and looked at their reflection in the back of a greasy spoon, you'd get Anna Calvi. Her music's not much better – sort of like a Poundland PJ Harvey doing overblown Patti Smith covers. While everyone from the NME to the BBC went mental for her debut album, this, ultimately, is music for edgy Daily Mail readers.

Elbow – Build A Rocket Boys!

Elbow deservedly took the Mercury Prize home to Bury in 2008, reward for two decades of dedication and criminally underrated albums. After the runaway success of The Seldom Seen Kid – propelled by the ubiquitous One Day Like This – fans feared a delayed onset of second album syndrome: A blanket of cocaine-addled feedback? A ten-song lament regarding the perils of fame? A concept album about Ken Barlow, maybe?

No such problems for the Elboys. Build A Rocket Boys! is the musical equivalent of one long, life-affirming cuddle – with a pithy word of encouragement in your ear for good measure. While they're unlikely to win again this year, they're still more than worthy of a nomination for one of the albums of the year.

James Blake – James Blake

Ah, the BBC Sound of... Is there any greater yardstick for shitness than this poll by music critics and industry wankers. Noise-polluting tranny-a-like Jessie J took the crown this year, pipping the likes of indie halfwits The Vaccines and coma-inducing Claire Maguire to the post. James Blake was the only remotely credible artist to emerge from the list; a bedroom knob-twiddler, versed in sequencers, samplers and drum machines, but with a haunting voice far beyond his 21 years.

Future pop, post-dubstep or popstep: whatever you want to call it, his sparse beats and skewed operatic delivery sets him apart from his BBC Sound of... counterparts, but he won't be strong enough to beat the field at the Mercury Prize.

Katy B – On A Mission

Katy B, you know Katy B. She's the one that does the song that goes “oooh-oooh-oooh” a lot. The one that does wafer-thin, inherently unlistebable dubstep pop. The one whose album sounds like the cast of Skins collectively vomiting into your ears. Yeah, her. Katy B.

You feel the inclusion of On A Mission is the middle-aged Mercury judges' attempt to appeal to the Topshop generation, because if this BRIT School graduate genuinely represents the cream of British music talent, something's gone terribly wrong.

Metronomy – The English Riviera

Metronomy – heralded by much of the music press as the progeny of the great left-field British popstars – are actually the sound of a Casio keyboard being mutilated by a blender, while frontman Joseph Mount drivels in faux-American monotone and falsetto.

If they don't win the Mercury Prize – which they won't – catch them live at The Velvet Onion supporting The Flighty Zeus, The Black Tubes and The Blue McEnroes soon.

Tinie Tempah – Disc-overy

If the most credible award in British music goes to the dolt responsible for these lyrics: “I got so many clothes I keeps 'em in my aunt's house”, “I been Southampton but I've never been to Scunthorpe” and “I got more hits than a disciplined child”; then we, collectively, for allowing it to happen, are the lowest ebb in human history...

Adele – 21

Adele Adkins is a singer-songwriter from South London. A complete unknown quantity, this one, but the Mercury Prize may provide the springboard she needs to gain at least some commercial success. Someone Like You, for example, one of the stand-out tracks on her nominated album, 21, could prove to be incredibly popular with weeping, wine-soaked hen parties, recently jilted Facebook users and as the soundtrack to faux-emotional TV montages.

Will she win? Her brand of soulful pop is probably too abstruse for most, but few could begrudge the £20,000 prize money being awarded to a brave, struggling musician like Adele.

King Creosote and Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine

Representing this year's token folk entry is Fife journeyman King Creosote – the man responsible for the greatest version of Nothing Compares To You ever recorded – and producer Jon Hopkins.

While the latter counts Coldplay amongst the artists he's previously worked with, Diamond Mine doesn't make you want to asphyxiate yourself with hummus or bludgeon your eardrums with grissini, à la Viva La Vida. It's clearly a labour of love, taking seven years to make, depicting a romanticised oil painting image of Scotland through trickling keys, languorous melodies, strangely captivating field recordings and Creoste's worldweary drawl.

It's never going to win, of course it's not, but it's a charming, rewarding album nonetheless.

Gwilym Simcock – Good Days at Schloss Elmau

Representing this year's token jazz entry is Bangor-born composer Gwilym Simcock – a proper musician who can read music and has all the exams and everything. Good Days at Schloss Elmau is Simcock unaccompanied on piano, rattling his way through classical, jazz and blues.

While the 30-year-old's chance of winning is non-existent, his nomination should afford him a hefty bump in album sales and the opportunity to soundtrack middle-class dinner parties all over Britain for the next few years.

Everything Everything – Man Alive

Adopted Mancunians Everything Everything's debut album, Man Alive, is a wall of bonkers barbershop yelping, XTC-indebted riffs and subject matter that deviates from shagging someone else's Mrs to photoshopping images – all delivered, inexplicably, in boiler suits.

Can they win it? Well, as one of the most interesting and unique bands to emerge from the past 12 months, Everything Everything do have an air of the Mercury Prize winner about them...

Ghostpoet – Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam

It's almost disappointing to see rapper and producer Ghostpoet nominated for the Mercury Prize, as the judges notoriously shortlist only the blandest of broadsheet-friendly hip-hop – Speech Debelle, Sway, Dizzee's more recent work, to a certain extent.

But in Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam – by far the best album title in this list – Obaro Ejimiwe has stepped forward as the natural heir to Mike Skinner's throne; tackling the intricacies of modern life with his devastating flair for wordplay, lazy, almost drunken drawl and dark, brooding, often impossible to categorise electronic beats.

Ghospoet is our tip to take home the Mercury Music Prize 2011.

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