So that was this year's Hyundai Mercury Prize shortlist.
The final 12 albums have been unveiled, and it's perhaps the most diverse, completely open playing field the prize has ever assembled.
There's a lot to discuss, so we've distilled our thoughts into five key takeaway points...
- - -
- - -
We are living through a golden era for UK rap...
Seriously. Even without big hitters such as Skepta - seemingly releasing too late to be eligible for this year's award - and Stormzy, the UK rap family still produced three exceptional entries, each artist with a daring, bold voice of their own.
Dave's textured, nuanced 'Psychodrama' addresses matters both personal and political; slowthai's 'Nothing Great About Britain' is an unedited, completely visceral document; Little Simz simply excels on 'Grey Area', the work of a technical master.
Taken on their own merits, each album could easily win the Mercury - put together, and you have a bumper crop for rap artists who want to pursue a highly individual and deeply British path.
- - -
The 'token jazz entry' doesn't do the current crop justice...
The Mercury Prize - with its various formats and sponsors - has always been a vital foothold into the mainstream for British jazz music, with final shortlist entries stretching back almost to the trophy's inception in 1992.
That said, it has also overlooked the genre. Sons Of Kemet arguably should have won last year's prize, missing out to a success, perfectly pleasant, but not completely inspired entry from Wolf Alice.
Band leader Shabaka Hutchings also missed out this year, with The Comet Is Coming's incendiary new LP failing to reach the shortlist. Perhaps the cruellest blow was delivered to Ezra Collective, whose astonishing year brought us the vivid, groundbreaking, and massively successful 'You Can't Steal My Joy'.
Sure, it's fantastic to see SEED Ensemble's wonderful record reach a wider audience, but there are shades of jazz still being treated as a niche concern in its lonely place on the shortlist.
- - -
The token folk entry has been retired...
The Mercury's token folk entry was long the subject of cruel jokes in some quarters, but it represented a solitary foothold into the mainstream for traditional music in Britain and Ireland.
Sadly, it seems as though that spot has been discontinued - there isn't a single shade of folk music on this year's shortlist, and it was sadly absent from last year's ceremony, too. A case of the vitality of some areas pushing the genre to the sidelines? Or merely the prize narrowing its focus?
With fROOTS recently suspending publication, there are previous few areas for folk musicians in this country to reach a wider audience.
- - -
Politics linger at the forefront for the Class Of '19
From Dave's dissection of Theresa May - "Why is your heart so sinister?" - to slowthai's rather more foul-mouthed appraisal of our outgoing Prime Minister, this year's shortlist is marked by an increasing political consciousness.
IDLES have long been vocal in their political identity, while The 1975 celebrated their spot on the Mercury Prize shortlist by releasing a brand new track with climate change protestor Greta Thunberg.
In years gone past, a standard think piece trope was to ask: where has all the political music gone? Guess that's one pitch that won't be winging its way to editorial Inboxes this week.
Mercurial. pic.twitter.com/2gpiPZ0AgV— I D L E S (@idlesband) July 25, 2019
- - -
Is it truly representative of British music?
Looking at the final shortlist of this year's Hyundai Mercury Prize you're struck by the quality and the variety of the releases, from NAO's sumptuous soul through to SEED Ensemble's jazz explorations, slowthai's punk-etched rap and Anna Calvi's biting, guitar-led songwriting.
Yet it's also decidedly English. Only two entries - Ireland's Fontaines DC and Wales' Cate Le Bon - hails from outside the English border, furthering the separation between English music and the rest of the UK. Ireland and Wales have never once won the prize, while Scotland has claimed it a mere three times (if we include Primal Scream). PJ Harvey, meanwhile, has won it twice on her own.
Part of the reason for this could be the cost of entering. Unlike the SAY Award or the Welsh Music Prize there is an entry fee for the Hyundai Mercury Prize, who tends to exclude underground releases.
Since many of the fine releases from Scotland, Wales, and Ireland come from small labels, perhaps this pushes them to the side; whatever reason, it's a shame that the Mercury can't move to embrace its Celtic cousins.
Congratulations to the #mercuryprize for Another year of Still demanding £288 from hundreds small labels and bands to enter even though you are sponsored by #HyundaiMercuryPrize— Geoff Barrow (@jetfury) July 25, 2019
- - -
The winner of the Hyundai Mercury Prize will be announced on September 19th.
Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.