What does each of this year’s Hyundai Mercury Prize shortlisted albums say about life and music in 2016? By Andrew Trendell, Music Journalist
Anohni - 'Hopelessness': The album of change
Celebrating fluidity and rebirth, Anohni sheds the baroque chamber pop that once found her fame - now using shimmering and infectious electro-pop as a vessel to fight the wrongs being committed against the planet and its people. Resplendent in her own skin having found her true voice, 'Hopelessness' is a towering testament to being whoever you want to be, and proving that change is not only empowering, but essential.
Bat For Lashes - 'The Bride': The album of modern love
Telling the tale of a blushing young bride whose groom dies on the way to the altar, Natasha Khan's fourth record is journey is self-discovery in finding life after love. It's an arc that shows us that all love must mourn the death of romance, and the heart must find comfort in itself if it's going to be compatible with another.
There must be substance and there must be a reason. 'The Bride' is a refreshing burst of natural reality for the Tinder generation.
David Bowie - 'Blackstar': The album that proves that albums still matter
"He always did what he wanted to do," wrote the album's producer, longtime Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti. "He wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life - a work of Art. He made 'Blackstar' for us, his parting gift."
Released on his 69th birthday and just days before his untimely death, Bowie's final record stands shoulder to shoulder with his finest work. Not only is it an ambitious and fearless listen, but it contains flourishes of the genres and sounds that simply wouldn't exist without him. It's still a huge leap forwards, whilst also being a consciously constructed full stop.
This is an album in its most artful and purposeful form. In Bowie's own words, 'Blackstar' is a reminder to future generations of artists that 'tomorrow belongs to those who hear it coming'.
Jamie Woon - 'Making Time': The album for slowing down the world
In the digital age of social media and the constant decline of the attention span, many artists feel the pressure to remain in the public eye - rushing to make their next release and diluting the work in the the progress. And when it comes to 'the difficult second album', the pressure is rarely greater to maintain the momentum.
Jamie Woon however, had a seldom seen stretch between his debut and sophomore record, with 'Making Time' arriving some four years after Mirrorwriting. His patience pays dividends, as every moment of 'Making Time' has been meticulously poured over, layered and evolved and matured to achieve lyrical, soulful and sonic perfection. In a world that's constantly accelerating, some things are worth the wait.
Kano - 'Made In The Manor': The album of grime coming of age
"I just want to make an album, mind my business ' all this gangster s**t, who wants to sleep with the fishes?" spits Kano on 'T-shirt Weather In The Manor', taking a nostalgic look back over East London life, where he's been and where he's going. During the great and celebrated grime renaissance, Kano stands apart from the rest of the movement.
Over a decade since he dropped his debut, 'Made In The Manor' sees the former N.A.S.T.Y. Crew man flourish and he finds his true voice: reflecting on friendships, families, feuds, fame and reality as his machine-gun delivery and wide palette of influences come together to paint a musical landscape. Eloquent, eclectic and free from cliche, 'Made In The Manor' is a proud stamp of maturity, showing not only where grime came from, but where it should go from here.
Laura Mvula - 'The Dreaming Room': The album that celebrates otherness
"I miss the wonder of a future with somebody," pines Mvula on 'Show Me Love'. "Oh God where are you?"
'The Dreaming Room' was born of Mvula coming to terms with a painful divorce, whilst also battling crippling panic attacks and taking a very public stand against racial discrimination within the music industry. In a glorious act of triumphing over heartache, ill-health and inequality, 'The Dreaming Room' is an album that defies the odds and all expectations. It's a record where pop and funk sit alongside choral elements, hip-hop, classical, disco, and so much more. Guitar wizardry, a masterful voice and a kaleidoscopic world of sound, colour and diversity come together - all celebrated through the prism of one singular and unique power. Nothing is out of bounds and all are welcome. The wonder is entirely hers.
Michael Kiwanuka - 'Love & Hate': The album that proves music has no colour
"I'm a black man in a white world," croons former BBC Sound Of winner Kiwanuka. Rather than railing against a culture of divisions, this one lyric accurately sums up the spirit of this immaculate record. Growing up in North London, Kiwanuka fell in love with music through Britpop and by learning the likes of Oasis on guitar. Like his tastes and inspiration, his music is reflective of a multicultural society.
Alfred De Musset once wrote that 'great artists have no country'. Here stands a man calling to be heard as an artist of the world, rather than labelling his music with race or borders. He succeeds. 'Love & Hate' is a record that covers the full it is every colour, and it demands your attention.
Radiohead - 'A Moon Shaped Pool': The album that celebrates longevity
Now nine albums into their career, and after 30 years of both defining and defying genre, Radiohead remain in a league of their own. While many artists of their years and legacy may have fallen into obscurity or self-parody, Oxford's finest continue to invent.
Having spent their career tearing up the map of where music should lead them, Radiohead now take a turn down a previously untrodden, sumptuous garden path with what is arguably their most heartfelt, cinematic and complete album to date. Eclectic as ever but anchored by grandeur and lyrics that are both political and ultimately human, 'A Moon Shaped Pool' shows that Radiohead still have so much to prove.
Savages - 'Adore Life': The album keeping punk alive
Now on their sophomore and second consecutively Mercury-nominated album, Savages' sound is less abrasive and austere, but no less punk. Punk is not about blind anger and nihilism, nor is it about hiding behind noise. It's about squaring up to the world without fear. Savages tear up the rulebook in wandering between the darkness and the light to celebrate love, life and loss - adding grace to every ounce of rage.
Celebrating unity whilst remaining defiant, this is punk at its most advanced and mature - the sound and attitude that 2016 needs. 'Adore Life' is a more-rounded reflection of what it is to be human - and celebrating it.
Skepta - 'Konnichiwa': The album that brings the mainstream overground, without selling out
Grime has been a staggering force to be reckoned with for well over a decade, but only began to enjoy a renaissance over the last few years. The biggest headline of this phenomenon came when it was forced back into the living rooms of the general public when Kanye West invited 30 grime stars on stage to perform with him at the 2015 BRIT Awards.
It was all a little too much for the sensitive sensibilities on many viewers. One complaint would become immortalised in Sketpa's 'Shutdown', when one lady was left "so intimidated" by these men "all dressed in black dancing extremely aggressively".
"It’s just not what I expect to see on prime time TV," she continues. Maybe not, but nothing would stop grime infiltrating the mainstream. Skepta's very use of this quote on an album that's somehow widescreen and universal, but still raw, political and true to its roots. Skepta has helped bring grime above the underground. He's here to stay, and he's done it on his own terms.
The 1975 - 'i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it': The album that saves pop
"We've just come to represent, a decline in the standards of what we accept," squawks Matt Healy on lead single 'Love Me' in a moment of crystal clear self-awareness as he not only faces his critics, but also the impact of the social media generation. In a world of passing fads and beige, disposable pop, The 1975's second album is anything but.
Flanked by some massive singles, substance infiltrates style as the record brings ambience, post-rock, electro, soul and more alongside slick electro pop. There's a wealth of ideas and provocative lyrics hanging from each and every hook. This is a trojan horse of a record, packed with surprises and proof that pop should still be taken seriously. We should accept no less.
The Comet Is Coming - 'Channel The Spirits': The album that's like nothing you've ever heard before
How do you keep surprising people in music, let alone in the world of jazz? On 'Channel The Spirits', The Comet Is Coming have the answer; if your sheer musicality is great enough, it will guide you.
Every twist, turn and flourish on this effervescent album carries the mind through the record's theme of a cosmic, interstellar journey - from the high octane to the sublime with everything in between. Everything is taken to the Nth degree and delivered with talent and compulsion. How can anyone call jazz self-indulgent when it feels so good? This is space-age jazz for the future, proving that there's still so much out there for us to explore.