The Mercury Prize is upon us once again, that coveted award that gives mere mortals a yearly glimpse into the hipster’s coveted iPod Classic. The award is famously diverse with Brazilian café jazz competing with angry, explosive grime.
Perhaps as a consequence of their striving for diversity, we feel some deserving artists are over-looked by the Mercury panel. But not by us. In the coming weeks, we’ll be highlighting some of the luscious LPs that have turned our office inside out this year. So without further ado, our first ‘Shouldabin’:
Mr Jukes – God First
‘Mr Jukes’ is the moniker of Bombay Bicycle Club frontman, Jack Steadman, a man whose band, in only four albums, managed to merge vintage folk music, ballsy indie rock and sample-laden sing-a-longs into a signature sound. When the band, nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2014 for ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’, used the dreaded ‘Hiatus’ word, I and my fellow BBC obsessives were genuinely gutted. Bass player Ed Nash’s project, ‘Toothless’ features a some hints of Bombay Bicycle Club’s influences and a few genuine heartfelt tunes, but in all honesty, it only made us mourn the band further.
So, when Steadman broke his silence with details of his new project, Mr Jukes, and released debut single ‘Tears’, we were probably more nervous than he was. A diluted Bombay Bicycle Club record simply wouldn’t do. Luckily, Steadman shared the same sentiments. What followed was a unique expression of his secret obsession with soul, jazz and funk. The trap beats underpinning the R’n’B tinges of ‘Tears’ proved immediately that this was going to be a very different album indeed.
When seeking collaborators for ‘God First’, it feels like Steadman simply flicked through his vinyl collection, jotted down some names and made a few calls. None are household names but all of them deserve to be. Charles Bradley’s wailing vocals in ‘Grant Green’ are a real stand-out moment. It’s no surprise that he allegedly collapsed after laying them down.
Much of the record was written whilst Steadman was staying aboard a cargo ship crossing the North Pacific Ocean. Perhaps this solitary setting helped him to maintain the raw sensitivity that we’ve come to expect from his vocals on Bombay Bicycle Club records (check out ‘Still’ from 2011’s “A Different Kind Of Fix”). It is this ability to convey deep emotion, even through layers of samples and synths, that makes solo track “Magic” my personal highlight of the album – the placement of the words every bit as beautiful as the content of them.
Whilst his original band’s catalogue will always occupy a special place in my heart, it’s a relief and a delight that Mr Jukes isn’t trying to jostle for that position. Instead, it occupies a place all of it’s own. It may not get the reach of a Bombay Bicycle Club record but it will certainly have the legacy.