Twelve shortlisted albums were chosen by a panel of industry experts including fellow musicians, radio presenters and critics
The news comes after a fraught year for the music industry, which has been forced to go without live music due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Among the debut albums to appear on this year’s shortlist is Arlo Parks’s Collapsed in Sunbeams, which was released in January to widespread acclaim. The Independent’s critic Helen Brown called it “a spot of brightness in a dark year”. She is joined by experimental rock group Black Country, New Road and their debut, For the First Time. The south London band’s album received mostly five-star raves from critics, perhaps with the exception of The Independent, which branded it “tedious and predictable” in a two-star review.
Other debuts on the shortlist include singer Celeste’s long-awaited Not Your Muse, which was delayed repeatedly due to the pandemic but ultimately released in January. Its success saw Celeste become the first British female artist in five years to have a No 1 debut album on the UK charts. Newcomer Berwyn, a Trinidad-born, Romford-raised rapper, songwriter and producer, also scored a spot on the shortlist with his debut full-length project, DEMOTAPE/VEGA. Saxophonist Nubya Garcia’s debut Source – an eclectic record incorporating soul, reggae, hip-hop and dubstep influences that explores themes of heritage, identity and grief – serves as this year’s “token jazz album”.
Other artists have experienced something of a career revival with their albums. Laura Mvula’s Pink Noise – her first album since being dropped by Sony – made the shortlist following critical praise, as did Mogwai’s As the Love Continues. In February, Mogwai scored their first No 1 album of their 25-year career following a fierce chart battle with Ghetts. The grime star is back for Round 2, as his album Conflict of Interest was also shortlisted.
After winning the 2018 Mercury Prize for their album Visions of a Life, Wolf Alice return to the shortlist this year for their new album, Blue Weekend. This means the English rock band have made the Mercury Prize shortlist for each of their three albums, joining a small group of other three-time nominees that includes Coldplay, David Bowie, Michael Kiwanuka, Anna Calvi, Foals and Primal Scream. To date, PJ Harvey is still the only artist to have won the award on more than one occasion (in 2001 and 2011).
Rounding off the shortlist are electronic artist Hannah Peel’s Fir Wave, music collective Sault’s Untitled [Rise], and Floating Point’s collaboration with American jazz saxophonist Pharoah Saunders and the London Symphony Orchestra, Promises.
See the full shortlist below:
Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams
Berwyn – DEMOTAPE/VEGA
Black Country New Road – For the First Time
Celeste – Not Your Muse
Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra – Promises
Ghetts – Conflict of Interest
Hannah Peel – Fir Wave
Laura Mvula – Pink Noise
Mogwai – As the Love Continues
Nubya Garcia – Source
Sault – Untitled [Rise]
Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend
The list was selected by a panel of judges comprised from musicians, DJs and other industry figures, including Anna Calvi, Michael Kiwanuka, broadcaster Annie Mac, BBC 6 Music and Radio 2 head Jeff Smith, and Vice.com’s editorial director Tshepo Mokoena.
“It is testament to the strength of British music that, during a year which saw musicians face the toughest challenges of their lives, so many remarkable albums came out nonetheless,” the judges said in a joint statement.
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“There was an embarrassment of riches for this year’s Hyundai Mercury Prize judges to choose from, but the final 12 show how diverse, vibrant and far-reaching British music continues to be. Choosing one winner out of 12 albums that bring so much hope for the future will be a challenge indeed.”
Last year’s Mercury Prize was won by Michael Kiwanuka, for his self-titled third album, Kiwanuka. A live ceremony did not take place due to lockdown restrictions.
The 2021 Mercury Prize will take place at an awards show on 9 September 2021 at the Eventim Apollo in London, and will include live performances from a number of the shortlisted acts.