Mercury Prize 2015: The nominees

By Mark Savage
Music reporter


A look at the 12 albums nominated for this year's £20,000 Mercury Prize.

The winner will be announced in a live ceremony, broadcast on BBC Four and BBC Radio 6 Music, at 21:30 GMT on Friday.

Image source, Warp

Aphex Twin: Syro

The first album in 13 years by ground-breaking electronic musician Aphex Twin, aka Richard D James. A series of intricate musical puzzles, it is surprisingly accessible - finding a sweet spot between the musician's ambient works and the "drill and bass" of his 1990s hardcore phase.

Highest UK chart position: 8

He said: "The holy grail for a music fan, I think, is to hear music from another planet, which has not been influenced by us whatsoever." [Pitchfork]

Did you know? The album title is a shortened verison of "Syrobonkus" - a nonsense word made up by one of James's children.

Image source, Virgin EMI

Benjamin Clementine: At Least For Now

Smoky, melodramatic, intimate - Benjamin Clementine's debut record has seen him compared to Nina Simone and Nat King Cole. Across 11 sparse, piano-led tracks, he unflinchingly describes his background as a Ghanaian immigrant, who went from homelessness and busking on the Paris metro to being championed by Sir Paul McCartney and Bjork.

Highest UK chart position: Did not chart.

He said: "Personally, I wouldn't mind going on stage naked, totally naked." [The Independent]

Did you know? The opening track repurposes Winston Churchill's words to address his unhappy childhood: "Never in the field of human affection/ had so much been given for so few attention."

Image source, Hot Fruit

Gaz Coombes: Matador

Gaz Coombes' second solo album couldn't be any further removed from the irrepressible indie of his Britpop band, Supergrass. Stuttering beats and restless, metamorphic song structures complement the singer's sense of disorientation and disquiet as he approaches 40.

Highest UK chart position: 18

He said: "I think Britpop was a bit overblown; it was only a handful of really decent bands." [The Guardian]

Did you know? The album is named Matador because "at certain times, we've all got to dodge some kind of beast that's hurtling towards".

Image source, Fatcat Records

C Duncan: Architect

Glasgow's Christopher Duncan received a diploma in classical music from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland - but, aside from his complex choral harmonies, you barely hear the influence on this album of hushed, pastoral electronica.

Highest UK chart position: Did not chart.

He said: "Geographically, my music is quite breezy. It's not necessarily a Glasgow sound. Glasgow music tends to be a bit gritty." [Quip Magazine]

Did you know? Duncan recorded the album alone, in his bedroom, playing each instrument individually. On some tracks, the drum sounds were created by tapping wire brushes on his desk chair.

Image source, Naim Edge

Eska: Eska

A former session singer for the likes of Grace Jones, Zero 7 and Bobby McFerrin, Zimbabwean-born Eska Mtungwazi has recorded an agile album that effortless blends soul, jazz and folk with the rhythms of West Africa. But the main attraction are her supple vocals, which achieve the rare feat of combining intricacy and precision.

Highest UK chart position: Did not chart.

She said: "For around two years, I stopped recording, writing or performing with or for other people. I needed to be the only element in the room... so I could get to learn what my sound was." [PRS for Music]

Did you know? Eska is the only artist on the shortlist with a degree in maths.

Image source, Island Records

Florence + the Machine: How Big How Blue How Beautiful

Florence's third album is her most vulnerable and stripped-down to date - although there's still plenty of hurricane-force emoting, as the singer picks over the bones of a broken relationship and confronts her demons after a decade of full-throttle hedonism.

Highest UK chart position: 1

She said: "I think I've got quite a strange voice. It's more emotional, perhaps, than technical." [NPR]

Did you know? Taylor Swift encouraged Florence to ditch gothic lyrics about death and the sea that peppered her first two albums. "Taylor said that you must sing about what's happening in your life," she explained.

Image source, Play It Again Sam

Ghostpoet: Shedding Skin

Tense and brooding, Shedding Skin is Ghostpoet's second Mercury-nominated album after 2011's Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam. Recorded, at Brian Eno's suggestion, with a live band, it finds rapper Obaro Ejimiwe tackling topics like homelessness and domestic violence in his croaky, laid-back baritone.

Highest UK chart position: 52

He said: "I'm not becoming some political, Billy Bragg type character... but I'm never going to sugar coat anything." [Ellipsis]

Did you know? Ejimiwe was a judge on last year's Mercury panel. "You had a room full of passionate people, which was great," he told DIY magazine. "Nobody was blagging it."

Image source, Young Turks

Jamie xx: In Colour

A former Mercury-winner with his band The xx, Jamie Smith's first solo album pillages dance music's past to create something altogether new - quiet rave. At times it is obtusely minimal, but that only makes the moments where the music blossoms - as on the uplifting chorus to I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times) - all the more euphoric.

Highest UK chart position: 3

He said: "Because it was made over such a long period of time [five years], all the songs on the album just ended up not conforming to any specific era or trend." [Time Out]

Did you know? The album samples dialogue from several British programmes - including Channel 4 drama Top Boy - which Smith encountered while away on tour.

Image source, ALAMY

Roisin Murphy: Hairless Toys

Off-kilter, expansive pop music from the former frontwoman of Moloko. A lot of the lyrics emphasise her status as an outsider - "I didn't become a pop star, and nobody knows exactly why," she once said - but she seems happier operating on the experimental outer edge of dance pop.

Highest UK chart position: 19

She said: "If anyone tells me I'm trying to be Kylie Minogue, ever, they're wrong." [Evening Standard]

Did you know? The album was inspired by the film Paris Is Burning, which documents the lives of African-American and Latino drag queens in 1980s New York, and the "ball culture" which gave rise to Voguing.

Image source, Virgin EMI

Slaves: Are You Satisfied?

With its state-of-the-nation punk rock firebombs, Slaves' debut album is not for the faint-hearted. Singing drummer Isaac Holman and guitarist Laurie Vincent's music is precision-targetted at the mosh pit, but their album pulled off the tricky task of translating their scruffy riffs to the turntable.

Highest UK chart position: 8

They said: "In our generation there's lots of negativity towards people being creative. When I was growing up no one ever said 'You can do it'. Our band says you can." [NME]

Did you know? The band celebrated getting a top 10 album by going out for a pizza.

Image source, Rough Trade

Soak: Before We Forgot How To Dream

Emotionally revealing songs from a teenager wise beyond her years, Before We Forgot How To Dream charts five years in the life of Derry-born Bridie Monds-Watson. The singer-songwriter touches on themes of isolation, her parents' divorce, and finding your place in the world.

Highest UK chart position: 37

She said: "My parents didn't believe I'd written the song because I'd never shown any sort of interest in music." [BBC]

Did you know? Her favourite bands are Abba and Pink Floyd. "Not enough people appreciate how great those keyboard riffs are," she told The Guardian.

Image source, Dirty Hit

Wolf Alice: My Love is Cool

London quartet Wolf Alice took four years over their debut album, and the effort shows - with the grunge-pop of their early EPs moderated with moments of ethereal, melodic rock. Singer Ellie Roswell is the band's secret weapon - and their Trojan Horse, drawing fans closer with her delicate harmonies before unleashing a full-throated scream.

Highest UK chart position: 2

They said: "We put ourselves out there as a baby band. If someone says 'oh, I saw you two years ago', I feel like apologising." [The Telegraph]

Did you know? The band are named after a 1970s short story by Angela Carter, about a feral girl raised by wolves.

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