As August starts to draw to a dreary and rather wet close, summer (or what we had of a summer), is officially over. And with it, the shortlist for one of Britain's biggest prizes for British and Irish musical talents will be whittled down to a single winner: the winner of the Mercury Prize 2007.
Last year saw the Arctic Monkeys win with their record-setting super-fast-selling debut album, 'Whatever You Say I Am, That's What I'm Not'. And they've been shortlisted again this year, with their second, heavier and harder-hitting follow-up, 'Favourite Worst Nightmare'.
As ever, the Mercury Prize shortlist is also a mix of familiar names and relative unknowns. What I want to do then, as somebody who has no control whatsoever over the final outcome, is to plead with the judges, if by some fluke of the universe they end up reading this page, to choose Natasha Khan a.k.a the wonderful Bat for Lashes, as this year's winner.
Why? Well, the Mercury Prize is always a toughie, and there is always a degree of grumbling over the decision. Last year, the Arctic Monkeys won because, well, they were the band of 2006. But then wouldn't an act of equal talent, yet one that had been surrounded by less sensationalism and media coverage, have benefited more from the prize and the accompanying publicity? After all, by the time the Mercury was announced everybody had heard of the Arctic Monkeys, and by the sounds of the sales figures, everybody had bought their album, too. Why wasn't it given to Richard Hawley, for example, a singer-songwriter of huge potential and promise? But then again, my winner of choice would have been Muse, with their mind-blowing and devastatingly overblown fourth album, Blackholes and Revelations. And it isn't like Muse need more publicity or coverage: they've just played a gig at Wembley, and had to announce another due to the sheer demand for tickets.
Why should Bat for Lashes win, then, other than the fact that her debut album, Fur and Gold, is a brooding, sparkling, and ethereal dreamlike voyage into the unknown; a slice of glittering and gorgeous art-rock that bears comparison to Bjork, Kate Bush, and the brilliant Patrick Wolf (who for some reason, isn't up for the Mercury himself)? Well, I've assessed all the albums on the shortlist and I think that Natasha's is the most deserving. I'm biased, of course, like everyone: I don't much care for Amy Winehouse's supposed reinvention of soul, for example, or Jamie T's blend of the Streets and the Arctic Monkeys, namely, the Arctic Monkeys with less artistry and attention paid to both music and lyrics. I also happen to think that Dundee-based The View are a pile of crap: a band plucked from obscurity and thrust into the limelight, with no discernible talent between them. The best that can be said of them is that, for a bunch of youngsters, they possess a certain amount of extremely raw and unrealised potential.
But before I get carried away, there is plenty of talent on offer in the Mercury shortlist: Klaxons, for example, have set themselves the admirable task of combining indie-rock with dance and trance music, to produce a debut album, 'Myths of the Near Future', that demands to be jumped around to, as well as displaying influences as wide-ranging as Radiohead, Scissor Sisters, and Sonic Youth. The Young Knives are an impressive guitar collective, too, and Dizzee Rascal's 'Maths and English' holds a special place in my heart: in the unfortunately titled 'Pussyole', Rascal has converted me to my once bete noire, British hip hop. The man, to my mind, is to be applauded.
But it remains that Bat for Lashes is the strongest and most impressive contender on the list. It must be admitted that I dismissed Khan's work to begin with as a poor imitation of the Wolf's, but after listening to more than one single (how quick I am to judge and form opinions, it really is disgusting), I found her album to be a collection of wonderfully affecting and explorative songs that, unlike anything I've heard recently, you can truly become lost in and lifted by. Don't take my word for it, of course: listen to her work on MySpace, read the reviews collected on Metacritic, and even read my short review of her live performance at Latitude Festival this year (OK, that last one is taking my word for it, but you can't blame a boy for trying). Links below.
Bat for Lashes MySpace
Metacritic compilation of reviews of Bat for Lashes' 'Fur and Gold'
Review of Bat for Lashes' performance at Latitude Festival 2007