The virus and its resultant lockdown have lingered over the last year like an ominous cloud. While music may have been one of the most beleaguered industries during that time, it also did a bit of cloud shifting on its own.
Unlike almost anything else, the records released in the last 12 months have permeated the gloom like an assegai into the blue of brighter days beyond. Whether summoning colour back into dimming memories, blasting out the glory of days yet to come, or offering simple comfort that ‘All Things Must Pass’, music has been a constant benevolent companion of suffering throughout history, and it has far from abandoned us during this latest diabolical dirge. This year’s Mercury Prize seems more significant than most, owing to that celebration of what music has offered and the glory of what awaits us as gigs and records once again flood the incumbent barricades.
However, there are a few very notable omissions from this year’s list. Rather than illuminate these in a sort of our opinion is better than your’s sense, here at Far Out, we thought we’d explain why some of the records that received a snub will be sorely missed at the ceremony by celebrating what they offered.
Of course, all awards have vapid back-patting overtone, but the Mercury Prize has always fallen on the right side of that by withholding honourable integrity and choosing records on their artistic merit alone. It was important that this year they shone their beam in the right direction, but sadly their shortlist is left wanting in various areas. Music was all about helping us connect this year, and certain albums that truly unified the masses while remaining artistically unprecedented have been passed over for innovation alone, amid the doldrums of the musical underground.
The albums that should’ve been nominated for the Mercury Prize:
New Long Leg by Dry Cleaning
While Dry Cleaning’s New Long Leg might not be to everyone’s taste, the whole point of the Mercury Prize over the years has been to disavow that and champion the most original, innovative and accomplished British albums. New Long Leg ticks all three of those boxes in a way that has been unrivalled in recent times.
From start to finish, the record continually plays with sound and poetry like a child who has inadvertently cracked anti-matter and is using it to power a Scalextric. The album forages forward into what academics might refer to as futurist art. In the same way that Marcel Duchamp spawned the Dadaist movement by capturing the mindless horrors of World War One by hanging a urinal in an art gallery, operating on the logic that the only way to reflect the senselessness of society was through equally senseless art; Dry Cleaning’s barrage of near-maddening lyrics is reflective of the bombardment of information that we receive daily in this technological-info age.
This cognizant and satirically comical reflection of society, whether intended that way or not, is highly credible and crafts out Florence Shaw as one of the most original songwriters for many years, but the fact that it also sounds like a Television post-punk masterpiece elevates the playfully cerebral intent to the exultant levels. Which other album is talking about the new format of the Antiques Roadshow?
For Those I Love by For Those I Love
Earlier this year, Dublin’s David Balfe, AKA For Those I Love, delivered the most personal, heart-wrenching and dancefloor-filling album for aeons, one that channels his platonic love for his best friend, Paul Curran. The project is the inner workings of Balfe’s battle with grief following Curran’s death and coming to terms with life without his best friend.
Such a subject is a bold and brave one to go near, but one that underlines the necessity of music. For Those I Love is a therapy session for Balfe, with him taking the listener along his journey to recovery. Throughout the record, Balfe reminisces precious nights spent listening to The Streets, Burial and Mount Kimbie, with the latter being a stark resemblance from a sonic perspective. Balfe’s lyricism adds a contrasting ingredient, one that creates unsettling moments thanks to his raw musings, crafting words that put you in his shoes.
Music should make you feel a connection, and anybody who has lost a friend prematurely will find comfort and pain across the record. Even though Balfe’s lyrics are from the microscopic school ala Mike Skinner, his focus on the small details somehow doesn’t detract from the album resonating universally.
A Hero’s Death by Fontaines D.C.
In most cases, second album syndrome is disavowed as a fallacy; you could simply tell from the quality of Dogrel and the clear artistry behind that they would not fall victim to the fabled curse. However, achieving what they did with A Hero’s Death is another thing entirely.
Not to put it in overtly blunt tones but part of living a hopeful life during lockdown had to do with not rolling over and letting it grind you down. On 31st of July 2020, Fontaines D.C. followed up their ground-breaking debut at just the right time and served up the perfect lockdown message in shouted illumination.
On a personal level, I owe a lot to this album, but the reason I break the fourth wall here is that I know legions of other music fans could say the same. To those still struggling I can confirm that the song’s mantra is true – brighter times are possible. The album beats the drums of taking dominion over your mood, but it furthers it in forceful tones to also take charge of the circumstances that surround you and even lists off ways to do so. The title track is a tour de force in unapologetic youthful energy and optimism, every stanza is an anthem and much like the record as a whole, it offers up reflection of a very rare adrenalised variety, like Jack Kerouac fronting an Irish lovechild of The Pogues and The Stranglers.