for better or worse, it appears that the Shortlist Music Prize is here to stay. The ostensible goal of the prize is to “enable respected members of the creative community to share their cultural discoveries directly with the consumer, without an intermediary or filter.” And, formed in 2001, it has bestowed its honors on Sigur Ros in that year and, last year, to N.E.R.D. Along with the Mercury Prize in Britain, the Shortlist Prize attempts to highlight music releases that are artistically challenging and worthy of wider consideration. In fact, for the Shortlist, a record must not have sold more than 500,000 copies to be nominated.

But the Shortlist is different, you see. The prize is picked, primarily, by other artists, allowing a group of artists to recommend some of their favorite lesser known releases to hopefully gain a bit more widespread recognition and, in the best case scenario, reach over the Gold barrier for sales. Featuring a variety of different artists, the nominees appear to be well-balanced- a smattering of hip-hop, folk-influence, rock and pop have all made the list and ensure a very interesting concert at the awards ceremony in October. But, before the concert, we have a large amount of time with the nominees. To examine, to plot, to calculate who will win the Prize and continue to languish in obscurity and who will lose and…continue to languish in obscurity.

Bright Eyes - Lifted, or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground
15 to 1

While it’s doubtful that the news that this release recently broke the gold barrier will affect the chances of Conor Oberst’s most ambitious album-to-date, it is assuredly a concern that there are two other artists that mine similar territory on the shortlist. It can hardly be argued that Lifted is Oberst’s most cohesive album work in his short career and that his hipster cred is off the charts (shagging Winona puts him in league with indie luminaries like Ryan Adams, Dave Grohl and Pete Yorn). And while his sudden discovery of a possible light at the end of Omaha’s tunnel on Lifted is a nice change, Oberst’s sleeping his way to the top will probably not be enough to get the Prize this year. For too many of the voters, the first few tracks of this release will come off as it has to many critics familiar with his earlier work- self-indulgent whining.

Stylus Review

Cat Power- You Are Free
5 to 1

Of the three traditional singer-songwriters nominated this year, Marshall probably has the most amount of momentum heading into the final month before the decision is made. Her case has been helped by the recent New Yorker article which paints her alternately as schizophrenic and as genius. Or both. The truth lies somewhere in between, most likely. Either way- You Are Free is the most consistently realized artistic statement by Marshall produced thus far. Also in her favor is her gender: the prize has not yet been awarded to a woman, unless you count Jonsi from Sigur Ros, and it might seem like high-time to give the girls their due. All in all, Cat Power isn’t a sure bet, but it is a good one.

Stylus Review

Damien Rice- O
15 to 1

Having just reviewed this, there are only a few things that I can say in addition about O. Some of the voters who will end up making the decision: Josh Homme, Mos Def and Spike Jonze most obviously, will probably not be won over by its sometimes overly simplistic lyrics. Additionally, coupled with the Bright Eyes and Cat Power, it seems like Rice may split the vote for earnest acoustic singer-songwriter types. Of course Rice’s strengths do lie in the fact that he goes further than either of these artists towards expanding the constraints of the genre, while retaining a careful eye on the elements that make it successful. Overall, though, his chances of running away with the Prize are pretty much a longshot.

Stylus Review

Cody Chestnutt- The Headphone Masterpiece
5 to 1

The only double album in the running, Chestnutt’s album has a lot of things going for it heading into the awards voting, not least of all the fact that he appeared on one of the voter’s own albums (The Roots’ Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson). Chestnutt also boasts one of the most varied albums in the mix, which could draw in rock, soul and hip-hop inclined voters, much like N.E.R.D last year. This very thing, however, could work against Chestnutt: last year, N.E.R.D came away with the Prize and one thinks an urban repeat is unlikely. Of course Dizzee Rascal and Ms. Dynamite won the last two Mercury Prizes’, so Chestnutt should certainly not be ignored- especially considering the mythology surrounding the album’s DIY aesthetic.

Floetry- Floetic
20 to 1

An accomplished debut album for the duo, certainly, but merely a token pick for both the Shortlist and Mercury Prize nomination lists. In no discussion of either award has there been much credence given to the possibility of Floetry winning. What these nominations will do, however, is ensure that the group makes at least two more albums, riding the accolades that they’ve received for this one. Only time will tell whether they will be able to transcend the highs of Floetic over the course of an entire album and make a classic. Along with the Black Keys, the longest shot in the bunch.

Sigur Ros- ()
24 to 1

More odd than Floetry or the Black Keys winning? Sigur Ros taking home a second award. It, of course, wouldn’t be good form to bar a band from a contest that is supposed to highlight art that doesn’t get enough mainstream recognition, but their nomination is a confusing one. The most interesting thing about their nomination, incidentally, is entirely secondary to the fact that the group is being recognized again for artistic achievement. Instead, it means that Virgin spent a truckload of money on a band couldn’t make a gold record if they had every Virgin Mega-Store playing their songs for weeks after its release. Absolutely no chance for this one, sadly.

Stylus Review

Yeah Yeah Yeahs- Fever To Tell
10 to 1

This is the hardest to place odds-wise, due to the make-up of the voting pool and the relative unevenness of the release. Fever to Tell seems like it may turn off a number of the jury as much as it may turn on others. It may come down to some of the softer-rock adherents, most notably Dave Matthews and Cameron Crowe, in being able to push this album over the top. For this, one would think that Interpol offers the obvious alternative for voters. Additionally, for what it’s worth, the prize has seemed to shy away from cowing to any sort of scene (The Avalanches and The Hives were both nominated last year), diminishing the New York factor for making much of a difference. Increasing the group’s chances of a win is the manic and charismatic Karen O, who exudes a sort of feminism that some of the jury may be able to get behind. Overall, while it seems like it may be the year for a more traditional rock band to win the award, this will probably not be the one to do it.

Stylus Review

The Streets- Original Pirate Material
9 to 1

Along with Sigur Ros, the most overtly foreign sounding release on the Shortlist this year- not because he’s speaking a foreign language, mind you, but because he’s speaking a foreign language and a foreign musical language. It seems like if the jury doesn’t get to see the videos for Skinner’s garage masterpiece, then the point may be lost on them entirely. Somehow, this doesn’t seem like the release that ?uestlove, Mos Def, and Erykah Badu are going to be repping heavily either. All indications lead one to believe that this release will get discarded soon after it’s listened to by most judges, but, then again, Sigur Ros must have seemed exactly the same way in 2001.

Stylus Review

The Black Keys- Thickfreakness
25 to 1

So the White Stripes album did go gold. Good for them! As an advancement of the genre that they inhabit or as brilliant auteurs perfecting the rough edges of that same genre, the Black Keys offer little for the jury to get truly excited about. A few votes may be garnered through the initial down-home feeling that the group certainly evokes, but as Stylus’ own Kilian Murphy states, “perhaps this music was best left in the past.” Unfortunately, nominator Josh Tyrangiel didn’t think so- and we have our longest shot to take the Prize.

Stylus Review

Interpol- Turn on the Bright Lights
4 to 1

Along with Cody Chestnutt, this record has the ability to unite certain segments of voters like none other. Tight pop song lovers will love the intricately balanced melodic constructions, 80s lovers will hear Joy Division and want to give them the prize immediately and production freaks may just find Interpol’s adherence to their aesthetic endearing enough to swing their votes over. Two factors also help the group’s chances: there’s no other album like it on the list (four guys making indie-approved pop songs) and no other band like it has won in the past (Sigur Ros and N.E.R.D). In fact, it seems like the stars are aligned for a victory for the quartet, if the group of voters looks to the past for some guidance- and chooses to celebrate a record which attempts to pay homage to the past and, at the same time, confirms rockist notions of what a band should be- something the committee of voters has done in varying shades each of the past two years.

Stylus Review

VERDICT

Who could win: Cody Chestnutt, Cat Power, Interpol

Who will win: Interpol

Who should win: The Streets


By: Todd Burns
Published on: 2003-09-29
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