The Mercury Prize has announced its shortlist, and what a list.
Who is who, why oh why, and what do they look like when you listen to them? I'm here to answer all of your nominee quandaries. Here is my album-by-album guide to the 2020 Mercury Prize.
Anna Meredith – FIBS
Anna is a proper classical music person who chucked all of her violas and trumpets into the sea and waited until a synthesiser washed up to shore. Somewhere there's a fisherman with a barnacle-clad flute wondering if he's found a new species of fish. Meredith's got a proper MBE, which stands for "Music Brilliant Excellent" or "Mercury? Blimmin' Eck!" The album sounds like she's pressed a single loop for ages on a Juno keyboard, but in a good way. It sounds like post rock for people made of cotton wool. Again, in a good way.
Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now
Fact I: Charli XCX is a Roman person called Charlie who lived in the year XCX. Fact II: She recorded this album under lockdown, which means she played the keyboards one-handed while waving goodbye in a Zoom meeting. Fact IIII: The album is full of r'n'b bangers that sound downloaded through an early-2000s modem. Fact IIIIIII (I've lost count): Charli says she sees music in colours, which is a shame because they didn't have colours in Roman times.
Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
Dua Lipa is the queen of pop. Is she a benevolent queen, or a despotic one? That depends on how many people she's beheaded. Future Nostalgia is packed to the rafters with roof-raising pop bangers: she reminds me of Sophie Ellis Bexter but without a Blue Peter mum. I like that bit in the Dua Lipa single that goes "pa da da daa pa de dah, oh!" although I don't think that's on this album. Swing that axe, Dua! Oh hold on, the phone's ringing. Hello? I'm being sued for what? No, I don't remember telling my readers that the pop star Dua Lipa led a series of public executions in her bid to become the ultimate pop queen. Sorry, you must have the wrong number. Okay, bye.
Georgia – Seeking Thrills
This is not the eccentric electronic duo Georgia from the oddball Edinburgh imprint Firecracker Recordings. Which is a shame, because I liked what I heard. Instead, this is much more straightforward: summery dancefloor tunes perfectly designed for all the festivals that aren't happening right now. Georgia's dad was in some obscure act called Leftfield. The other Georgia, the one I remember, deconstructed music into a thousand Nintento shards: this Georgia rebuilds it.
Kano – Hoodies All Summer
Grime grandmaster Kano (pictured) has tonnes of award nominations: Mobos, Brits, Mercury Prizes, cycling proficiency certificates. They're literally pouring out of his every orifice. His track Trouble is already a modern classic, with the help of a 92-year-long video in which he shows off his spittin' skills. I'd advise against wearing a hoodie all summer, unless of course you've got stuff falling out of your orifices, in which case I'd recommend a number of hoodies placed at strategic points on your body to avoid the very real possibility of something shooting out of your bum and ruining the job interview and/or funeral you're attending. This is great advice: I hope someone's reading this.
Lanterns on the Lake – Spook the Herd
You can't spook a herd of cows by putting lanterns on a lake: let's get that clear from the outset. You could set fire to a sheep, perhaps. Anyway, this Newcastle outfit's blend of folksy indie music provid– no, wait, I can't let this rest. Maybe make the shape of a cow ghost using the lanterns: the lake's ripples would make it move eerily. Or just throw the cows into the lake and chuck a lantern at them. Yeah, do that.
Laura Marling – Song for Our Daughter
Marling, who is not a fish, is one of the most nominated artists in Mercury prize history. She's been referred to as "nu-folk" which is like nu metal with fewer wallet chains. Marling, who is definitely still not a fish, wrote this album for a non-existent daughter. What is also non-existent is my interest in folk music. She'll probably win the Mercury, because a fish hasn't won the prize since James Hake in 2013. Wait. Was she a fish or wasn't she? Am I thinking of marlin? The Mercury needs to choose less confusing musicians.
Michael Kiwanuka – KIWANUKA
If in doubt, just put your name in big letters. This is why I scribble FAT ROLAND on passing schoolchildren and Deliveroo riders. Kylie's first album was called Kylie, so I assume that's the sort of vibe the excellent Mr Kiwanuka was going for. He's got a labrador called Whisky, which is nice, although I doubt Whisky has ever written "Whisky" on anything, on account of not having opposable thumbs. Madonna's first album was called Madonna. This is Michael's third album: he's doing it all wrong.
Moses Boyd – Dark Matter
When I reviewed this album for Electronic Sound, I said Moses Boyd pinballed around his drum kit "like an oiled whippet". This was not meant to be a suggestion. I would sincerely like to apologise to any dog owners who have lost their pets due to unexpected slippage, but you shouldn't have been near the cement mixer in the first place. Where was I? Oh yes. Moses. Boyd. Jazz. Funk. Drums. More drums.
Porridge Radio – Every Bad
Lawks, it's an indie guitar album. I've not heard one of those since 2003. If you're not sure what a guitar is, it's like a synthesiser but shaped like an 8 and made of string. Weetabix Wireless, sorry, I mean, Porridge Radio are from Brighton. The beach in Brighton is most famous as a filming location for the Paul Bettany film Wimbledon. If a guitar album wins the Mercury, albeit one as good as this, all electronic music is dead. Fact.
Sports Team – Deep Down Happy
Sports Team are wacky, like a clown on a sausage, or a barbershop quartet up the nose of a walrus. Their critics say they are posh Cambridge lads who read too much John Betjeman. Why are they even in this list of best albums? I don't even like sports. Or teams. Or being happy deep down. Uh-oh! Coco's fallen off the bratwurst! So wacky! Like a goose in a top hat, or a buffalo in a fez, or morris dancers with googly eyes on their knees, or an office tie covered in cartoons of Stewie from Family Guy, or an inflatable penis dressed up to look like Prince Phillip, or saying the word "Uranus" the rude way, or a piece of poo on a stick, or a stick embedded in a massive poo, or stabbing yourself to death with a poopy stick, stab stab stab until the horror of this album is forgotten forever. Ahem. I think I need to lie down for a bit.
Stormzy – Heavy is the Head
Never heard of him, sorry. Only joking! I am being very hilarious today, I hope someone's reading. Stormzy does actually have a very heavy head and has to carry it around in a wheelbarrow. Sometimes he wears bullet-proof vests just to support his torso, what with the weight of his colossal bonce. Stormzy once did a single about how his head was too big to fit in his boots, which to be honest we could have guessed without learning it in the song. If the actual Mercury prize is a medal worn around the neck, Stormzy is truly stuffed.
Further Fats: "Darius Versus The Venga Boys": Fat Roland's guide to the 2011 Mercury Music Prize nominations (2011)