Ireland’s equivalent to the Mercury Music Prize returns to its regular home of Vicar Street on Thursday March 3 with Today FM broadcasting live as it happens. There’ll probably be some really rushed and ramshackle television coverage after the fact, too.
You should know the drill by now; The Choice Music Prize determines the very best Irish record between January and December of the previous year, as contested between 10 acts. A judging panel of 12 industry types whittled it all down to the supposedly perfect 10 and it’s the expected mix of genuinely great, quite good and pretty bad.
Notorious curmudgeon Jim Carroll has already stuck his oar in, taking oddly-barbed aim at one Gavin James. While the affable Dublin singer/songwriter deals in admittedly anaemic, predictable and paper-thin studio gloss, he’s relatively harmless, plus this is a contest that has featured Kodaline and The Riptide Movement in the past couple of years. This year’s crop feels very ‘Yeah, I guess that’s about right’ given it was a fairly forgettable year for Irish records with a few notable exceptions.
SO LET’S TAKE A LOOK AT WHO’S BATTLING IT OUT FOR THAT SWEET €10,000~!
Colm Mac Con Iomaire | And Now The Weather
Who? Talented multi-instrumentalist as seen and heard in Kíla, The Frames and The Swell Season.
Why? Following in the footsteps of last year’s winners The Gloaming, Colm Mac Con Iomaire represents the traditional Irish music side of things this time around. Much like The Gloaming’s self-titled effort, And Now The Weather is no mere token inclusion, rather an excellent record packed with stirring music and delicate sensibility.
Win? Highly unlikely to see a trad act take it two years in a row, but you wouldn’t object too strongly.
Gavin James | Bitter Pill
Who? Big smiley ginger lad done good. Rarely seen minus acoustic guitar.
Why? I mean, don’t get me wrong. Jim Carroll is right to turn his nose up at such an obvious and rather weak demographic-conscious piece of work but “chancer” feels a touch harsh. It’s rather difficult to get worked up about Gavin James. He’s just a nice dude who treads a particularly bland path. Should Bitter Pill be here? Nope, but there’s always a commercial vanilla representative and with the likes of Hozier, Hudson Taylor, Little Hours, Walking On Cars, The Coronas, Keywest and the aforementioned Kodaline and The Riptide Movement all developing strong fanbases in the face of barren, listless tripe, you could make the argument that the Choice should go mega-beige on at least one of the slots.
Win? First eliminated, you’d think. Imagine being the one judge in the room really trying to make the case that Gavin James released the best Irish album of the past 12 months. Good luck.
Girl Band | Holding Hands With Jamie
Who? Arguably the very best act to emerge from these shores in recent times. You either get it or you don’t.
Why? As noted elsewhere on this very site, there were easier listens in 2015 than Holding Hands With Jamie, but few as fascinating, important and downright visceral.
Win? They really, really should. The Choice, like the Mercury, enjoys throwing up a surprise winner. It would be no major outrage if Girl Band walked away empty-handed, but Holding Hands With Jamie deserves to be lauded as a new benchmark for what Irish music is capable of.
HamsandwicH | Stories From The Surface
Who? Twee outfit with the single worst band name in all of the Emerald Isle.
Why? SHRUG EMOJI
Win? Well, they really shouldn’t, but they’re a critical darling for some reason so don’t rule it out.
Jape | This Chemical Sea
Who? Increasingly impressive jack of all trades, Mr Richard Egan. (And friends).
Why? Because, as Colm O’Regan succinctly pointed out in our countdown of the Best Albums of 2015, This Chemical Sea finds Egan finally, gloriously marrying his love for acoustic and electronic efforts in a way that eclipses his excellent previous work.
Win? A victory would see Jape scoop an unprecedented third Choice Music Prize, but it is his best album…
Le Galaxie | Le Club
Who? Retro-flavoured, science fiction-loving synth-wielding party animals. Fans of Point Break.
Why? Because they’ve earned it. Le Club finally bottles Le Galaxie‘s exquisite and infectious live sound on record. It’s a vibrant, shimmering advertisement to catch one of the best live acts in the country, and a damn fun time to boot.
Win? Le Club may be a blast but on repeat listens the party comes to feel a little too long.
Róisín Murphy | Hairless Toys
Who? A continually compelling, somewhat overlooked and defiantly individual voice.
Why? For better or worse, Róisín Murphy is always going to register in most minds as ‘the vocals from that deadly Moloko song’, which is a decent enough feather in one’s cap but Murphy has sported many different and, indeed, rather esoteric hats in the years since. She is an artist who delights in flouting convention, dipping into foreign tongues and smoky soundscapes with the deftest of touches. Hairless Toys is an ambitious, often spellbinding gem.
Win? Murphy feels due for some recognition and it’s still vaguely left-field enough to provoke surprise so… maybe.
SOAK | Before We Forgot How To Dream
Who? The fearless, witty and quite brilliant Bridie Monds-Watson.
Why? SOAK is the kind of artist who makes an immediate impression, whether you stroll past a festival set or sit down with a record as lovingly-crafted as Before We Forgot How To Dream. As debuts go, it’s an astoundingly confident and lived-in body of work. Heartfelt without being cloying, empathetic rather than simplistically sympathetic, it really is quite a special first missive.
Win? Despite all that, there’s a nagging feeling that SOAK doesn’t really need awards recognition, not yet at least. She’ll win it one day, but probably not at the first time of asking.
Villagers | Darling Arithmetic
Who? Just a man and his thoughts.
Why? Darling Arithmetic is a beautiful and personal record, eliciting genuine emotive respect across a solemn and considered narrative. It’s a superior work and feels like Conor O’Brien at his most candid and confessional. And that’s why…
Win? Ladies and gentlemen, your two-time winner of the Choice Music Prize; Villagers.
Young Wonder | Birth
Who? Cork duo. One makes interesting beats and loops, the other shrieks a lot.
Why? Another critical darling that makes me reach for the shrug emoji. Just can’t get past those try-hard vocals.
Win? Would function perfectly as the ‘shock’ victory that nobody is going to focus on, and, again, critics swallowed Birth with a great big spoon so that judges’ room is guaranteed to have more than a couple of dogs in this fight.
SO, YOUR WINNER WILL BE…
Calling the Choice is kinda pointless, tbh. Heart says Girl Band but, as above, gut says VILLAGERS. Don’t rule out Jape or Róisín Murphy, though.