2012 Mercury Prize Nominations: Listen to 5 artists you should know

Much like its other years, the 2012 Mercury Prize shortlist is yet again dominated by mostly rock-leaning artists, with other genres weaved — or perhaps forced — in. However, there are quite of few artists on the tally that have sold considerably fewer albums than some higher profile acts who were snubbed.

Here is the 2012 Mercury Prize Shortlist:

Alt-J “An Awesome Wave”
Ben Howard “Every Kingdom”
Django Django “Django Django”
Field Music “Plumb”
Jessie Ware “Devotion”
Lianne La Havas “Is Your Love Big Enough?”
Michael Kiwanuka “Home Again”
Plan B “Ill Manors”
Richard Hawley “Standing at the Sky”s Edge”
Roller Trio “Roller Trio”
Sam Lee “Ground Of Its Own”
The Maccabees “Given To The Wild “

Solo artist and Pulp touring guitarist Richard Hawley is the most recognizable name to ears here in the U.S., along with the familiar rock strains of the Maccabees, rapper Plan B and electro-pop singer Jessie Ware. Others like Alt-J, Roller Trio, Sam Lee and Lianne La Havas are far more under the radar than excluded Coldplay, Kate Bush, Emile Sande, Ed Sheeran and 2010 Mercury Prize winners The xx.

Of the 12 nominated artists, two are people of color and one prominently features a band member of color; and there are two are women. There’s one rap artist, one English folk artist, one jazz troupe and splashes of pop all over the place despite a notable absence of a “pop-pop” act.

That’s not to say the shortlist is just mostly lily-white rock and devoid of imagination. It’s just kind of subdued compared to years before. The winner will be announced on Nov. 1.

Below I’ve pulled out videos and songs from five artists to get filled in on, including the ladies and the outliers.

Lianne La Havas

American music fans may already be familiar with Jessie Ware’s first U.S. single “Wildest Moments” — a perfect moment for sure — but they also ought to pick up on Lianne La Havas “Forget,” a track that has yet to make an impact here but has all the fixings to fulfill the mature-voiced, fully produced void in top 40 today, in Adele’s general absence.

La Havas has a trill that, with the reins on, sounds cool and genuine, and when it’s full-voiced can move houses from their foundations. The video for “Forget” is also likeable and powerful, a juxtaposition of her hard-working, self-fulfilling popularity with a deadbeat, acoustic guitar-strumming heartbreaker. Her point: she’s the one that “tearing you apart.”

Alt-J (?)

Yes, that’s the keyboard shortcut on a Mac for the Latin sign for Delta. Just call them Alt-J and you can throw up a triangle with your hands at their shows for posterity. This post-pop, post-rock quartet is most identifiable by its lead singer, whose vocals can put-on or -off like the guy from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. The group effectively builds out melodic ideas and then breaks them down, sometimes by the end of the song, sometimes mid-phrase.

They’re a bit beyond the boy-meets-girl narrative, and opt for movie references and their obsession with “Where the Wild Things Are.” They may be the weird kid at the back of the classroom, but the vid for “Breeze Blocks” will do some hurt on your heart.

Ben Howard

Check out my full profile on the young singer-songwriter Ben Howard here; he shares a connection with Michael Kiwanuka (also on the shortlist), as they’re both on the Mumford & Sons-founded label Communion, not a bad clan to have considering the latter’s worldwide acclaim now.

Sam Lee

“Ground of Its Own” is one of the few artist debuts on the ‘list, and it stands out for its learned, particular brand of folk. Many acts get dubbed “folk” if their hands hold an acoustic guitar, but Lee takes traditional songcraft and updates it more than just by plugging in. His traversing, sensual baritone works its way around English roots and folk music in a contemporary, world-aware way.

He also may get extra points for helping to promote and document songcraft for the BBC and for his reputation as an engaging live artist.

Plan B

Plan B is currently dubbed the frontrunner, and you can fill in the blanks on him starting with this video for “Ill Manors,” which is the tough title track to his album and the soundtrack to the film of the same name. He is certainly the most aggressive artist on this list, not just by virtue of hip-hop’s nature, but in his vibrant and confrontational delivery and the ambitious vehicle of the “Ill Manors” film.