It’s The New Thing

Why Burial Has To Win The Mercury
July 27, 2008, 11:48 pm
Filed under: Burial, Mercury Prize, Radiohead

Yes, it’s that time of year again.  The time of year when the internet is saturated with rants on blogs and forums alike, ranting and raving about who and more annoyingly, who hasn’t, been nominated for this year’s Mercury Prize.  Mercury nominee induced ranters come in many forms: the deluded ones who can’t quite grasp just why their favourite British psytrance outfit has missed out…again, the realistic ones who begrudgingly thank the judges for nominating a least of couple of the deserving artists and finally those oh-so-cool ones who “gave up on the Mercury back in 2002 when Ms. Dynamite won.” 


Whatever the motives, the only thing that’s consistent is that every year the internet is buzzing about the nominees, with people ruthlessly critiquing the judges’ choices.  Without fail there is always some sort of backlash that the judges have become accustomed to.


This year’s backlash has not been as hate filled as I’ve seen it go, but music forum boards around the word have still displayed disgust at the omission of certain albums.  Personally this year’s list isn’t too blood boiling for yours truly.  Although the eyes roll reading the names of Adele and Estelle, one has come to accept the representation of the bearable mainstream.  The only nominee(s) who I absolutely despise have to be Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.  Not only is Alison Krauss born and raised in Illinois but also the album is completely unbearable.  Find me a champion of the album who is under 25, that’s my challenge to you.  As DrownedInSound put it Robert Plant is a “husk” who has opted to churn out easy-on-the-ear country folk rock.  Seeing as how the Mercury is supposed to be the award that celebrates modern British music, the judges seem to have completely gone against those values by nominating Raising Sand.  We’ve already covered the fact that an American woman made half the album, but where was the album recorded?  Nashville and Los Angeles, come on now, and in the perplexingly good reviews it received the album was described as Americana.  It’s quite clear that the reputation of Robert Plant has intimidated the judges into making an idiotic choice when it comes to supporting modern British music.


It almost brings a tear to my eye to think that Plant and Miss America were nominated and that one Britain’s most innovative and original bands weren’t.  I’m talking about Portishead.  After a ten-year hiatus the despondent trio hit the ground running with what is arguably their best album ever.  I expected the fragile, dark and complete Third to be a shoo-in for nomination, but alas those cunning judges outfoxed us once again.  Don’t even get me started on the fact that Britain’s best new band’s stunning debut was criminally overlooked, yes, I’m talking about These New Puritans. Portishead and TNPs not being nominated is undeniable proof that the life is unfair.


Now though, I think its best I get to the point.  As you may have guessed from the cryptically worded title I vehemently believe that Burial must win the Mercury this year.  There is absolutely no question in my mind that no one else should.


Before I state my case for Burial, I need to outline the fairly strong claim that Radiohead have to the prize.  There is absolutely no argument when it comes to the quality of In Rainbows; from start to finish the album was a masterpiece, hands up, touché, sir.  Unsurprisingly when Radiohead announced their revolutionary method by which to release In Rainbows via the world wide web, the music world was a gasp.  “This is the end for the music industry!” was the apocalyptic conclusion of many.  Yet there were no surprises (excuse the pun) when In Rainbows turned out to be just as awe inducing as the system by which it had been released.  Although the album is stunning, it isn’t ground breaking, no one turned round and said, “I’ve never heard anything like this” because it was a distinctly Radiohead sound, the success came in the refined, sleek nature of the album.


Radiohead also have a pretty big bone to pick with the Mercury judges.  The nomination for In Rainbows is their fourth, with OK Computer, Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief all being nominated years ago.  If Radiohead win this year there would definitely be some justice after missing out three times and the Mercury judges should have acknowledged their brilliance back in 1997 when OK Computer was nominated.  This leaves one of the greatest bands in British history without the award that they should have won years ago.



Eleven years on from when OK Computer was nominated and music has evolved.  New technology has opened the door for new and exiting electronic and techno based genres to emerge.  One of these new genres to excite music junkies was Dubstep that seemed to appear around the turn of the century.  Dubstep’s sparse, syncopated beats, dark atmosphere and omnipresent sub-bass began to spread beyond local scenes around 2005 and once Mary Anne Hobbs showcased the genre with “Dubstep Warz” on her Radio 1 show in January 2006 the genre began to pick up speed.  Today, Dubstep is much better known, which flag flyers including the likes of Skream, Benga and of course Burial. 


Burial’s second album Untrue is the album nominated for this year’s Mercury.  Released in very late 2007 on Kode9’s highly influential Dubstep label Hyperdub, Untrue was hailed from all angles, deservedly achieving an average of 90% on Metacritic with Mary Anne Hobbs declaring “I think it’s the most wonderful mosaic of sound I’ve ever heard in my whole life.”  From listening to Burial, it’s clear that he is a different breed of Dubstep artist.  More so than any other Dubstep artist, Burial recreates the distinct aura of an urban environment.  The emphasis of Untrue was one of atmosphere and building deep, dense soundscapes.  Burial’s use of vocal samples on Untrue is also second to none.  Using warped “girl next door” vocals from unidentifiable tracks to form the most eerie and profound tracks you’ve ever heard.  To quote Mary Anne Hobbs again, “it doesn’t even sound like it was made on this Earth, it could be a transmission from a star in a galaxy far far away…” Untrue’s “mosaic of sound” is one of the most intricately put together records ever created.  Its unique sampling of Vin Diesel’s keys jangling from a film, to his brother’s lighter and so many other every day noises all have their perfect placement within the record’s infinitely dense atmospheres.


With Untrue, Burial has taken Dubstep to a whole new level.  His phenomenal innovation has just about created a sub-genre to Dusbtep, a sub-genre exclusive to him. 


As the wise Jamie Reynolds said last year, after Klaxons deservedly won the Mercury, “I think [the Mercury judges] have rewarded forward thinking music.”  For me, this is exactly what the Mercury Prize is about and if the judges choose to continue in this vein then Burial will win. Untrue is the most forward thinking record of the nominees by a country mile.  There is still the overhanging threat of the Mercury judge’s painful guilt of never awarding the prize to Radiohead kicking in and the award going into their carbon neutral hands and the £20,000 prize money going to Friends of the Earth. 


Burial is still anonymous to fans but only a select portion of music fans even know he exists, the publicity and the £20,000 prize money would make sure that Untrue stunned a much wider audience (It could also provide him with the new version of Soundforge, the only thing he uses to create his music.).  Radiohead don’t need the publicity, they don’t need the money, and they have treated awards with ever increasing cynicism (see Thom Yorke at the Mercury two years ago).  You must have been living under a rock to not know the method by which they released In Rainbows, and countless bands have followed suit, letting myriad headlines read “Band X Do-a-Radiohead.”  The Mercury Prize would be wasted on Radiohead, but despite this, Burial has made a better and more forward thinking record.  Untrue has the ability to stun people on the same scale that In Rainbows did, but due to Dubstep’s underground nature, the album just needs that little extra push.  In Rainbows is a masterpiece, but Untrue is just a little bit better.  Over to you judges, no pressure.


Mp3: Ghost Hardware

Mp3: Shell of Light

Mp3: Shutta

Mp3: Homeless

Order Untrue

Full List of Mercury Prize 2008 Nominees


7 Comments so far
Leave a comment

A very interesting article. If Untrue is anywhere near as good as you claim, I can only support your argument. For those who don’t know, I am a Radiohead obsessive.

Comment by Hasan

“Find me a champion of the album who is under 25, that’s my challenge to you.”
I’d like to take up that challenge and refer you to the fanboard of both Robert Plant and Alison Krauss where you will find that there is lots of love for Raising sand amongst the under 25 fans. In fact maybe more so than under the older ( long time) fans of either artist. ;D
Though I love the album I am not under 25 myself but I do have to agree with you in failing to understand what that album is doing in this particular “competition” .
And here is my question..who would want to celebrate “modern British music” ?

Comment by tal

Yes, Untrue is an amazing album, but that generally doesn’t have anything to do with why it will win (I would put a lot of money on it).

1. It’s an emerging genre
2. It’s trendy without being mainstream
3. It’s critically acclaimed but not all that well known (Mercury generally don’t know all that much about music but always want to appear as if they know more then the average listener)
4. It’s the most ‘urban’ of all the nominees (yes this matters)
5. No one knows who Burial is, so it’s all a bit ‘Banksy’ (Mercury like their gimmicks)
6. The only way Mercury would give Radiohead this award now would be as a consolation prize, otherwise it would cheapen the previous awards that Radiohead lost out on (In Rainbows is arguably the weakest of their 4 nominated albums).

But yes, Untrue is an amazing album would be a deserving winner, but I don’t think it’ll win for the right reasons (no one ever does!).

p.s. I’d like Elbow to win it, as well.

Comment by angelbreaks

Also, fuck Robert Plant, dude.

Comment by angelbreaks

I’m 18, and I love Raising Sand to bits. But then, I’m American, so maybe I don’t count.

I will say, though, that if you think Raising Sand is too “easy listening,” you should really check out some videos from the tour.

Comment by Mindy

In response to Tal up above – Modern Music is worth celebrating because there tend to be more than 2 ‘great’ British bands per decade, which was not the case before the 1980’s.

Comment by angelbreaks

utter nonsense that Portishead wasnt nominated, its a fantastic album, but in 100% honesty, I think Burial – Untrue may be the best album I have ever heard. I think at this point I can safely say that my two favorite albums of all time are

Arcade Fire- Neon Bible
Burial – Untrue

Comment by justin

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