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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released February 3, 2014 | Big Dada

Distinctions Lauréat du Mercury Prize
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Electronic - Released January 1, 2013 | Polydor Records

Distinctions 4F de Télérama - Lauréat du Mercury Prize
With his 2011 debut full-length, dubstep-via-fractured R&B producer James Blake delivered on the promise of his earlier singles while at the same time overhauling his sound, moving away somewhat from the sample-heavy dubstep of those tracks to a sparser atmosphere. The album focused more on Blake's equally haunted piano and vocal lines, submerged elements of implied rhythms, dubstep's subsonic bass resonance, and ghostly samples to create a picture of restraint and contained emotional upheaval. The album felt not so much like the calm before the storm, but like silently watching a hurricane slowly and soundlessly move closer from the distance. Sophomore album Overgrown offers a similar feeling, but Blake approaches the songs here with even more restraint and a subtly deconstructed take on pop. Subtlety is perhaps Blake's greatest attribute on Overgrown, with what could even be the album's heaviest moments blurring into a pleasantly melancholy whole through deft production choices. Take for instance "Take a Fall for Me," a partially rhythm-less track featuring Wu-Tang's RZA in an extended set of rhymes over a looping sample of static and processed backing vocals, and samples that recall Tricky's earliest work. The jagged edges of a track like this could render it awkward with more obvious production, but Blake's touch pushes even RZA's toughest verses into a rainy, lamenting place. The skeletal piano of the debut returns on tracks like "DLM" or the gorgeous album-closer "Our Love Comes Back," which has the faintest hints of Chet Baker's springtime loneliness buried in Blake's mumbling blue-eyed R&B vocals. Brian Eno even shows up to collaborate on the sputtering rhythms of "Digital Lion," perhaps the most hyperactive track here, though only in relative terms. Somewhere between the vacant echoes of dub and trip-hop, dubstep's sample-slicing production, and the contained heartbreak of a singer/songwriter playing piano to himself in an empty room, Blake has crafted Overgrown. It's understated to the point of invisibility at times, with Blake subtracting even himself from the songs, allowing the lead vocals or hooks to be consumed by the song at large. Though the stormy textures and somber reflections are pretty specific to a particular mood, Overgrown finds and fits that mood perfectly. While it might take listeners a few spins to find the right head space for the album, once they get there, it's an easy place to get lost in. © Fred Thomas /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 2011 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

Distinctions 4F de Télérama - Pitchfork: Best New Music - Sélection Les Inrocks - Stereophile: Record To Die For - Lauréat du Mercury Prize
PJ Harvey followed her ghostly collection of ballads, White Chalk, with Let England Shake, an album strikingly different from what came before it except in its Englishness. White Chalk's haunted piano ballads seemed to emanate from an isolated manse on a moor, but here Harvey chronicles her relationship with her homeland through songs revolving around war. Throughout the album, she subverts the concept of the anthem -- a love song to one's country -- exploring the forces that shape nations and people. This isn't the first time Harvey has been inspired by a place, or even by England: she sang the praises of New York City and her home county of Dorset on Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. Harvey recorded this album in Dorset, so the setting couldn't be more personal, or more English. Yet she and her longtime collaborators John Parish, Mick Harvey, and Flood travel to the Turkish battleground of Gallipoli for several of Let England Shake's songs, touching on the disastrous World War I naval strike that left more than 30,000 English soldiers dead. Her musical allusions are just as fascinating and pointed: the title track sets seemingly cavalier lyrics like "Let's head out to the fountain of death and splash about" to a xylophone melody borrowed from the Four Lads' "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," a mischievous echo of the questions of national identity Harvey explores on the rest of the album (that she debuted the song by performing it on the BBC's The Andrew Marr Show for then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown just adds to its mischief). "The Words That Maketh Murder" culminates its grisly playground/battleground chant with a nod to Eddie Cochran's anthem for disenfranchised '50s teens "Summertime Blues," while "Written on the Forehead" samples Niney's "Blood and Fire" to equally sorrowful and joyful effect. As conceptually and contextually bold as Let England Shake is, it features some of Harvey's softest-sounding music. She continues to sing in the upper register that made White Chalk so divisive for her fans, but it's tempered by airy production and eclectic arrangements -- fittingly for an album revolving around war, brass is a major motif -- that sometimes disguise how angry and mournful many of these songs are. "The Last Living Rose" recalls Harvey's Dry-era sound in its simplicity and finds weary beauty even in her homeland's "grey, damp filthiness of ages," but on "England," she wails, "You leave a taste/A bitter one." In its own way, Let England Shake may be even more singular and unsettling than White Chalk was, and its complexities make it one of Harvey's most powerful works. © Heather Phares /TiVo
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Folk - Released January 1, 2011 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

Distinctions Lauréat du Mercury Prize
Risking arriving a little too late to the party, Devon-born 23-year-old Ben Howard is yet another young troubadour whose sound appears indebted to the '70s pastoral folk of John Martyn and Nick Drake. His debut album, Every Kingdom, therefore, has its work cut out for it from the offset if it's to make itself heard above similar recent efforts by the likes of Marcus Foster and Benjamin Francis Leftwich. But it's clear from the opening track, "Old Pine," a slow-burning epic that begins with some hushed choral harmonies before building into a strident slice of nu-folk, that this is a more intriguing affair. Indeed, considering that much of the album features nothing more than Howard's intricate fingerpicking guitar skills with the occasional flourishes of cello and percussion, it's remarkable that it's only toward the closing minimal acoustic balladry of "Gracious" and "Promise" that the evocative autumnal vibes begin to lose their appeal. That's partly down to Howard's versatile and intense vocals, which manage to capture the understatement of José González, the gruffness of Ray LaMontagne, and the soulfulness of James Morrison, without ever sounding like a tribute act, and partly down to the inventiveness displayed throughout its ten tracks, whether it's the military beats, sea shanty melodies, and howling wolf calls on "The Wolves," the burst of grandiose post-rock that interrupts the somber breakup song "Black Flies," or the buoyant campfire singalong of "The Fear." It's not clear whether Howard's stripped-back approach will cross over to the mainstream, as other than "Keep Your Head Up," a slightly more energetic rebel-rousing slice of folk-pop that found its way onto the Radio 1 playlist, its charms are more slow-burning than immediate. But it's an impressively timeless debut that suggests Howard should have no problem standing out from the overpopulated nu-folk crowd. © Jon O'Brien /TiVo
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Folk - Released January 1, 2011 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

Distinctions Lauréat du Mercury Prize
Risking arriving a little too late to the party, Devon-born 23-year-old Ben Howard is yet another young troubadour whose sound appears indebted to the '70s pastoral folk of John Martyn and Nick Drake. His debut album, Every Kingdom, therefore, has its work cut out for it from the offset if it's to make itself heard above similar recent efforts by the likes of Marcus Foster and Benjamin Francis Leftwich. But it's clear from the opening track, "Old Pine," a slow-burning epic that begins with some hushed choral harmonies before building into a strident slice of nu-folk, that this is a more intriguing affair. Indeed, considering that much of the album features nothing more than Howard's intricate fingerpicking guitar skills with the occasional flourishes of cello and percussion, it's remarkable that it's only toward the closing minimal acoustic balladry of "Gracious" and "Promise" that the evocative autumnal vibes begin to lose their appeal. That's partly down to Howard's versatile and intense vocals, which manage to capture the understatement of José González, the gruffness of Ray LaMontagne, and the soulfulness of James Morrison, without ever sounding like a tribute act, and partly down to the inventiveness displayed throughout its ten tracks, whether it's the military beats, sea shanty melodies, and howling wolf calls on "The Wolves," the burst of grandiose post-rock that interrupts the somber breakup song "Black Flies," or the buoyant campfire singalong of "The Fear." It's not clear whether Howard's stripped-back approach will cross over to the mainstream, as other than "Keep Your Head Up," a slightly more energetic rebel-rousing slice of folk-pop that found its way onto the Radio 1 playlist, its charms are more slow-burning than immediate. But it's an impressively timeless debut that suggests Howard should have no problem standing out from the overpopulated nu-folk crowd. © Jon O'Brien /TiVo
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xx

Alternative & Indie - Released August 16, 2009 | Young Turks Recordings

Distinctions Pitchfork: Best New Music - Lauréat du Mercury Prize
Debuts as fully formed and confident as the xx's self-titled first album are rare, but then, there is very little that is typical about this band or their music. Their influences are wide-ranging -- traces of post-punk, dream pop, dubstep, indie pop, and R&B pop up at any given moment -- but are focused into songs that are as simple as they are unique and mysterious. These tracks are so sleek, they're practically sculptural, and they boast impeccably groomed arrangements. The beats pulse rather than crash; the guitars are artfully picked and plucked; and the vocals rarely rise above a wistful sigh. This restraint and sophistication make the fact that the xx's members were barely in their twenties when they recorded the album all the more impressive; artists twice their age would be proud to call the maturity and confidence that flow seemingly effortlessly through the xx their own. Even their song titles are the perfect mix of concise and evocative: "Stars," "Shelter," "Night Time" (actually, all of their songs could be named this -- they're that intimate and sleepily cool). The moody, monochromatic sound the xx sets forth on "Intro" is lovely enough, but it's how the band subtly shifts and tweaks it on each track that makes the album truly special. "VCR"'s innocent guitars hint at the band's fondness for Young Marble Giants' radically simple indie pop, while "Infinity" leans more heavily on their post-punk roots, and "Heart Skips a Beat" underscores its name with wittily fractured rhythms. And while singers Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim sound good on their solo turns (Sim particularly shines on the spacious "Fantasy"), together they're truly inspired -- the aloof sensuality they generate makes romantic intrigue actually intriguing again. "Crystalised" might be one of the more intense songs here, but it still carries the confessional quality of a conversation between lovers, reaffirming what "heart-to-heart" really means. The standout "Basic Space" takes Croft and Sim's push-pull chemistry in an even more pop direction, but it's still awash in subtly fascinating details like its exotically rolling beat and Durutti Column-esque guitars. While the band's subtlety and consistency threaten to work against them at times, XX is still a remarkable debut that rewards repeated listens and leaves listeners wanting more. © Heather Phares /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released June 1, 2009 | Big Dada

Distinctions Lauréat du Mercury Prize
This album was about five years in the making -- that's how much time elapsed between the young Speech Debelle's first visit to London's Big Dada label and studio (home of underground hip-hop legend Roots Manuva) , where she quickly recorded the outline of "Searching," and the eventual release of Speech Therapy, which was largely recorded in Australia at the temporary studio of producer Wayne Lotek. It's interesting to consider how different the album would sound if it had been recorded in London rather than Melbourne; as it is, Speech Therapy is one of the most unique hip-hop albums you're likely to hear. There don't seem to be any samples or turntablism. Instead, the grooves are supplied mostly by acoustic instruments, and many of them are lightly, skitteringly jazzy -- notice in particular the soft, jazz-inflected accompaniment that adds an entirely new dimension to Debelle's nervous and unsettled rapping on "Searching" and "Better Days," and notice also the subtle but elegantly complex rhythmic displacements in the lyric to "The Key." On "Bad Boy," sweet strings and jungly drums push nicely against each other, and on the kiss-off rap "Go Then, Bye" a lushly beautiful acoustic guitar and small string ensemble accompany a startlingly angry and unsettled rap. There are, inevitably, a couple of clunkers: Debelle's flow is awkward on "Working Weak," and "Finish This Album" is a bit too literally self-referential. But those are minor missteps compared to the great strengths of this very fine debut. © Rick Anderson /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 2008 | Polydor Records

Booklet Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Lauréat du Mercury Prize
In a world where even the generally mediocre likes of Snow Patrol can have honest to goodness mainstream pop success, it seems peculiar that Elbow have never broken through beyond a devoted cult following. (Admittedly, the fact that their new labels, Polygram's alt rock imprint Fiction Records in the U.K. and Geffen in the U.S., are their fourth and fifth, respectively, after stints on Island, EMI, and V2, may have a lot to do with their lack of mainstream attention.) Exploring the fruitful middle ground between early Radiohead's mopey art rock and Coldplay's radio-friendly dumbing down of the same, Elbow makes records built on a balance of things not often found together anymore: strange musical textures alongside immediately accessible pop song choruses, or unexpected left turns in song structure paired with frontman Guy Garvey's warm, piercing vocals. It's no surprise that Elbow are regularly compared to old-school prog rockers like Pink Floyd and Electric Light Orchestra: they're proof that records can be cool and commercial at the same time, an idea that's not particularly hip in this day and age. Yet a song like "Grounds for Divorce," which puts a sharp, wryly funny Garvey lyric against a clanging, Tom Waits-like arrangement and throws on one of the album's catchiest tunes for good measure, or "Some Riot," which filters a yearning, lovely melody for guitar and piano through so many layers of effects and processing that it can be hard to tell what the original instruments sounded like, isn't afraid to display its accessibility even on its most experimental numbers. At the album's best, including the spacious, atmospheric balladry of the opening "Starlings" (imagine if Sigur Rós could write a pop song as emotionally direct as Keane's "Everybody's Changing") and the potential radio breakthroughs of the soaring, semi-orchestral epic "One Day Like This" (complete with choral climax!) and the wistful "Weather to Fly," The Seldom Seen Kid is Elbow's most self-assured and enjoyable album so far. [The U.K. version added "We're Away" as a bonus track.] © Stewart Mason /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released February 7, 2005 | Rough Trade

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Pitchfork: Best New Music - Lauréat du Mercury Prize
Antony and the Johnsons' second full-length recording, the haunting and affecting I Am a Bird Now, is a far more intimate affair than their debut. Antony's bluesy parlor room cadence is more upfront here, resulting in a listening experience that's both exhilarating and disquieting. "Hope There's Someone" is a somber opener, and its plea for companionship, augmented by a sparse piano/vocal arrangement that rises into the air by song's end in a swirl of multi-tracked harmonies, is ultimately uplifting. This formula is applied to much of the record and never ceases to elicit honest emotion from either Antony or his numerous guests. Rufus Wainwright takes the lead on "What Can I Do?," a languid meditation on death that conjures up images of rainy streets, lonely lampposts, and cigar smoke -- it's brief (under two minutes) but alluring like the cover of a Raymond Chandler novel. Boy George joins Antony for a duet on the soulful and empowering "You Are My Sister," Devendra Banhart lends his warbly tenor to the lush "Spiraling," and Lou Reed plays noodly guitar and recites an anonymous poem on the mischievous "Fistful of Love." It's a testament to Antony's skill as a writer and arranger that these guest appearances are completely devoid of pretense, and while each artist is reverent to the source material, it's still Antony's show, as the most powerful moments on I Am a Bird Now are his. © James Christopher Monger /TiVo
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Pop - Released February 16, 2004 | Domino Recording Co

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Pitchfork: Best New Music - Lauréat du Mercury Prize
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Pop - Released January 1, 2002 | Polydor Records

Distinctions Lauréat du Mercury Prize
She didn't get much respect as a member of the chart-running, violence-generating So Solid Crew, but that all changed when Ms. Dynamite released her solo debut, A Little Deeper. And with nary a 2-step beat in sight, it would appear Ms. Dynamite has made a clean break from her garage past to embrace a form of British ragga/R&B that makes her one of the few evoking references to Roots Manuva and Lauryn Hill. She has as much personality and strength of delivery as either of them (high praise, that), and carries the album as much as the tight production. Another name to think of is Craig David; like the only 2-step figure to make any impression on American R&B fans, A Little Deeper has a few concessions to commercial radio (i.e., the musically unadventurous). The Santana guitar lines on "Put Him Out" and the single "It Takes More" would fit perfectly on radio. Sure, the album's a bit more edgy than any of her American contemporaries ("Krazy Krush" is a great head-twisting track), but it's still not too far from Hill and other neo-soul figures. That may make her more palatable to a worldwide audience, but it also makes for a more diluted sound that doesn't impress quite like it could have. © John Bush /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released September 6, 1999 | XL Recordings

Distinctions Lauréat du Mercury Prize
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OK

Rock - Released January 1, 1998 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

Distinctions Lauréat du Mercury Prize
Talvin Singh first rose to notoriety running a popular Monday night London club, Anokha. That experience led to the release of the album Anokha: Soundz of the Asian Underground, a highly regarded sampling of Asian-esque sounds from artists who performed at Anokha. OK is Singh's debut release, and it was nine months in the making. The title was chosen because of the universality of the word OK, which can be understood almost anywhere. It is mostly a reinterpretation of hypnotic Indian classical music with plenty of flute, sitar, and of course tabla. There's also Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan-like devotional qawwali and traditional Okinawan dance music mixed in to make OK truly pan-Asian. Singh's subtle craftsmanship in fitting the old with the modern make this album seductive and one of the best efforts yet at blending Asian sounds with techno. "Light," a truly wondrous fusion of Indian flute and rich atmospherics, encapsulates what Singh is all about and should convince even the most skeptical. © Matthew Hilburn /TiVo
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Pop - Released January 1, 1997 | Island Mercury

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Lauréat du Mercury Prize
From the final drum'n'bass pioneer to release a full-length, Roni Size's New Forms could well be the best. Though it's slightly bloated at two full discs, and slightly overhyped due to its winning Britain's Mercury Prize, New Forms was the major statement on drum'n'bass, barring only Goldie's Timeless. Size's prime asset is his unique style -- tough, careening breakbeats and metallic time-stretched effects over the organic, elastic sounds of upright bass and other jazzy add-ons. He also has a knack for deft pacing; though many of his productions test the seven-minute mark, he plays around with the beats so much that no track ever grows boring. On the title track, he weaves two sets of female vocals -- American rapper Bahamadia and resident Reprazent diva Onallee -- into the mix, digitally syncopating Bahamadia's rap into the production with complete precision. The constantly retriggering breakbeat on "Matter of Fact" makes it another highlight, and Size's transition from the atmospheric "Heroes" to a raging breakbeat storm like "Share the Fall" (both are Onallee features) is astonishing. Yes, Size's production clout is much more apparent on the first disc than the second, but New Forms is laced with so much genius it's worth the price of two discs to own all the excellent productions inside. © John Bush /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 1995 | Island

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Lauréat du Mercury Prize
Lodged somewhere between the The Kinks’ quintessentially British songs, the dandyism of the early Roxy Music years (the For Your Pleasure period) and Bowie’s exuberance, Pulp brought their own personal touch to 90's Britpop. Jarvis Cocker's band dared to try it all, from disco pop, sixties, shoegaze, romantic and downright mischievous music. Crooning like an offbeat Scott Walker or transforming into a crazy Bob Geldof (from the Boomtown Rats period), Pulp's brain caresses the words of his impudent lyrics and drags himself into the simply perfect melodies. Such is the case on this eclectic fifth album, an impeccable reflection of this kaleidoscope on which the group from Sheffield touches on anything and everything, and especially on the sublime with Common People, an ironic masterpiece... © Marc Zisman/Qobuz
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Trip Hop - Released January 1, 1994 | Polydor Associated Labels

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Lauréat du Mercury Prize
Portishead's album debut is a brilliant, surprisingly natural synthesis of claustrophobic spy soundtracks, dark breakbeats inspired by frontman Geoff Barrow's love of hip-hop, and a vocalist (Beth Gibbons) in the classic confessional singer/songwriter mold. Beginning with the otherworldly theremin and martial beats of "Mysterons," Dummy hits an early high with "Sour Times," a post-modern torch song driven by a Lalo Schifrin sample. The chilling atmospheres conjured by Adrian Utley's excellent guitar work and Barrow's turntables and keyboards prove the perfect foil for Gibbons, who balances sultriness and melancholia in equal measure. Occasionally reminiscent of a torchier version of Sade, Gibbons provides a clear focus for these songs, with Barrow and company behind her laying down one of the best full-length productions ever heard in the dance world. Where previous acts like Massive Attack had attracted dance heads in the main, Portishead crossed over to an American, alternative audience, connecting with the legion of angst-ridden indie fans as well. Better than any album before it, Dummy merged the pinpoint-precise productions of the dance world with pop hallmarks like great songwriting and excellent vocal performances. © John Bush /TiVo
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Pop/Rock - Released March 5, 1993 | BMG Music

Distinctions Lauréat du Mercury Prize
Including no less than five British Top Ten singles and several other chart entries stretching back to 1992, Elegant Slumming is easily M People's best album. From the driving British house of "One Night in Heaven" and the nu-disco slant of "Moving on Up" to more downtempo soul on "Melody of Life," vocalist Heather Small is confident and aggressive while the production by Mike Pickering and Paul Heard backs her up with an exquisite touch. © Keith Farley /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released June 3, 1992 | Creation Records

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Lauréat du Mercury Prize