by Francesca Peak
Last Thursday, in what was an utterly predictable and, according to The Guardian, ‘subdued’ ceremony at the Camden Roundhouse, alt-J took home this year’s Mercury Prize for their debut album An Awesome Wave. They were everyone’s pick to win mainly because their album was different and yet accessible to all and mainstream enough to dominate Radio One’s playlist for the past month. Their set was the busiest and one of the best at Bestival this September and no doubt their fan base will only grow thanks to the Mercury Prize. They were good winners, their album is very deserving, and I’m happy for them.
On an entirely personal note, there was another album I enjoyed far more and which I think must have been a close runner-up. Jessie Ware had featured on a few SBTRKT album tracks, Sanctuary and Right Thing To Do, but her first solo single Strangest Feeling failed to make any impact on the charts last year. It was only with this year’s release Wildest Moments that the 28-year-old has really started to shine. I first became aware of her this summer and made her set at Bestival one of my priorities – and what a smart choice that was. Her set was atmospheric, ethereal and beautiful, and led me to get her debut album,Devotion.
Like many others on the Mercury shortlist, Devotion’s strongpoint is that it’s a collection of great songs that, more than anything, creates a certain atmosphere which, in Ware’s case, is solemn, peaceful and moving. It’s got enough variation in pace, subject matter and tone to avoid listener boredom, and there’s something unique you can’t pinpoint about her. Standout tracks Wildest Moments, 110% and the fun Sweet Talk provide pillars for the album that drifts between pop-funk and soft ballad. With the vocal range of Adele, electro-soul of The 2 Bears and breathy tones of The xx, Devotion is easy to pick up but impossible to forget.
Now for something completely different. The indie-pop band Django Django first entered my consciousness when Database remixed Default, changing the tone completely from sombre electro-pop to groovy dance. Their self-titled album only reached number 33 in the UK chart, but I would hope that we can look past chart rankings in this day and age. There are so many parts to this album; the choral-esque vocals that create beautiful harmonies throughout, the use of African sounds and the creation of thirteen seemingly different songs that blend into one.
It’s difficult to pick stand-out tracks, but Waveforms, which has been around since last year, is a favourite, as are Life’s a Beach and The Storm, which have carried me through many a weary car journey. The album is almost tribal, thanks to the use of a range of instruments, collective vocal sounds and the way it makes you move and want to clap, without really knowing why. It’s like a cross between The 2 Bears’ Bear Hug, Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Next Girl from The Black Keys. Don’t ask, just listen.