Choice Music Prize 2012 // A Preview
Now in its eighth year, the Choice Music Prize has always attracted controversy and acclaim in roughly equal measure, but has never failed to get tongues wagging about quality home-produced music.
The announcement of the shortlist inevitably provokes as much discussion about what albums failed to make the cut as those that did, and this year is no exception.
Former Choice judge Martin Burns, who runs independent label Flaming June, thinks this year’s selections suffer from focusing too much on acts that have been nominated – and won – before.
“As usual, choosing 10 albums from the hundreds that were released last year is going to ruffle a few feathers.
“There are at least four acts who have been nominated before. It always seems to be dominated by the more established artists.”
The presence of three past winners on the shortlist – Julie Feeney, Adrian Crowley and Two Door Cinema Club – and two former nominees in Delorentos and the Cast of Cheers only adds to the sense of sameishness, especially given last year’s winner Jape was receiving his second award after first taking the honour in 2008.
Burns continues: “I was absolutely certain Seamus Fogarty, Deaf Joe, Sinead O’Connor or Funeral Suits would be nominated. But it didn’t happen.
“However, I was particularly pleased to see Windings and Mumblin Deaf Ro chosen because they are both on small independent labels run by real music enthusiasts and they are both brilliant acts.
“The only record I don’t think should have made the list is Two Door Cinema Club, which was, in my opinion, a weak record compared to their debut.”
Though the shortlists are never particularly eclectic, 2012 is just about an even split between indie guitar bands and guitar-based singer-songwriters, with piano-toting Julie Feeney the only (slight) exception.
Once again, the nascent hip hop scene on the island is conspicuously ignored. Many will be disappointed to see Dublin rapper Lethal Dialect’s sprawling LD50: Part II – the Irish Sun’s #1 album of the year – miss out, but it’s a familiar feeling for hip hop heads. Ditto trad, with the Spook of the Thirteenth Lock’s The Brutal Here And Now harshly overlooked.
On the heavier end of the spectrum, BATS and Jogging could be forgiven for taking their ball and going home. Most surprising though is the total omission of any electronic music in what has been one of the genre’s finest years in memory, with Bantum, Defcon, Simon Bird and Sunken Foal each releasing superb under-the-radar records.
Burns agrees: “Once again, there were absolutely no dance records that made the shortlist, which has always puzzled me.
“I must admit I was a little disappointed that Katie Kim or Laura Sheeran weren’t included. I was very proud to have been associated with the two albums they released in 2012.
“Then again it really is a poisoned chalice for the judges because there were so many great albums that didn’t get the nod.”
Damien Dempsey – Almighty Love: The first album in five years for the Donaghmede singer-songwriter picks up more or less where To Hell Or Barbados left off. Led by a powerful title track, Almighty Love sees Dempsey’s trademark booming voice underpin a smooth mix of genres from trad through to reggae and electronica and a keen focus on social justice.
Julie Feeney – Clocks: Serial nominee and winner of the inaugural prize Feeney has carved her own niche mixing quirky piano pop with a background in avant-garde and classical music, and Clocks continues in the vein that has earned the Galway songwriter acclaim well beyond these shores.
Mumblin’ Deaf Ro – Dictionary Crimes: With a small change in spelling, Mumblin’ Deaf Ro couldbe the name of a long-forgotten delta bluesman. In truth, he’s only one step removed with a knack for aching simplicity and casting positive light on even the darkest topic. Dictionary Crimes may be the surprise name on the shortlist, but now that it’s there, it would be no surprise if the judges fell in love with its tender elegance and made it the winner.
Wallis Bird – Wallis Bird: Though based in London, the smoky-voiced Wexford songwriter has become a regular fixture on the Irish gigging over the past couple of years. This self-titled album – her third – is her most successful to date, however her bland, electronic-tinged acoustic pop has been done countless times before and will do little to win over non-believers.
Adrian Crowley – I See Three Birds: A third nomination for the Galway man, I See Three Birds Flying is the follow-up to 2009 winner The Season of the Sparks and sees Crowley repeat the formula that made the latter such a popular winner. Crowley’s forlorn, Leonard Cohen-like baritone and lush bedroom orchestrations are again the draw with Crowley’s immense songwriting skill to the fore.
Two Door Cinema Club – Beacon: It’s two in two for the Two Door Cinema Club, the Belfast three-piece having triumphed at the first attempt with 2009’s cross-channel hit Tourist History. Second time around, however, the sheen has been wiped from their previously gleaming veneer and the songs simply aren’t strong enough to separate them from the growing crop of generic indie guitar bands.
Windings – I Am Not The Crow: It takes some believing that in eight years, not one Limerick band has made the Choice Music Prize shortlist – until now. Windings is the brainchild of Stephen Ryan – one half of sadly-departed noise rock duo Givemanakick – and continues his long-standing affair with jangly, off-kilter indie rock with a long list of influences from folk to psychedelic and everything in between.
Delorentos – Little Sparks: After very nearly calling it a day before their second album, You Can Make Sound, Delorentos radically rethought every facet of their musical existence and emerged early in 2012 with their most complete collection of tracks to date. Allied with an innovative promotional campaign that saw them produce a magazine and host pop-up shops around the country, the group’s European success has been earned the hard way but they’re undoubtedly stronger for it.
The Cast of Cheers – Family: Another group to decamp to London to take on the city’s less forgiving but more lucrative gigging circuit, the Cast of Cheers bullied their way onto the scene in 2010 with Chariot, an electronica-fuelled math rock record that recalled the best of Foals and Bloc Party and was handily made available for free download from Bandcamp. Family is their first album to be recorded in a proper studio and the result is far tighter and more coherent than Chariot – if not quite as exciting.
Heathers – Kingdom: Sisters Ellie and Louise McNamara earned their stripes on the DIY circuit with their cheaply-recorded, mostly acoustic first album, Here, Not There. Lead single ‘I Remember When’ was fortuitously picked up for a large-scale Discover Ireland tourism ad campaign and the pair haven’t looked back since. Kingdom is a big step up in terms of ambition and production value, but in doing so they’ve lost much of the rustic charm that set their debut apart from other pretenders.
Originally published in the Irish Sun on Friday, January 11, 2012.