Choice Music Prize 2016

2016

Now in its 11th year of existence, The Choice Music Prize was born out of a desire to increase exposure for Irish acts both locally and overseas. Each year, ten outstanding Irish albums released over the past 12 months are selected to become contenders for the €10,000 prize. From the charming indie-folk of Kells natives Ham SandwicH, to Le Galaxie's vibrant synth-pop, we run through this year's stellar nominees, before the winner is announced on Thursday 3rd March.

The shortlist

  • Soak - Before We Forgot How To Dream
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    Winner

    Though only 16 when she released her debut EP in 2014, Bridie Monds-Watson had been a firm fixture on the Derry gig circuit since the age of 14. Now a nationally-recognised talent, the Northern Irish singer-songwriter is releasing her beautifully-understated debut through Rough Trade Records. Exhibiting her multi-instrumentalist talents, the wistfully-named Before How We Forgot How To Dream sees Soak interspersing her delicate strain of indie-folk with string-laden instrumentals, laced between poignant lyrics. Long-time fans, look out for the revamped version of 'Sea Creatures', her heartfelt ode to a troubled friend.

  • Gavin James - Bitter Pill
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    For a postman’s son who began his career playing Jimi Hendrix covers in the garden shed, Gavin James hasn’t done badly. After a Choice Music Prize win for ‘Irish Song Of The Year’, the 22-year-old was quickly billed as Ireland’s answer to Ed Sheeran, who's since showered James with praise, and enlisted him to play a string of shows alongside Gingerbread Records' first signing, Jamie Lawson. Sticking to the poignant ballads of his acclaimed live album - bar the addition of a Hozier-esque title-track - Bitter Pill is an emotional listen, pulling softly at listeners’ heart-strings. Time will tell whether James dares to venture beyond themes of heartache, but so far it’s a formula that’s keeping both critics and fans hooked.

  • Roisin Murphy - Hairless Toys
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    From 1995’s Do You Like My Tight Sweater? right up to 2007’s Overpowered, Róisín Murphy has always displayed a unique talent for pairing leftfield ideas with huge pop hooks. Happily, the recent eight-year hiatus seems to have done little to sate the singer-songwriter’s interest in the avant-garde. Arguably Murphy’s most adventurous outing yet, this third LP finds the former Moloko frontwoman swapping the sleek disco of Overpowered for a sparkling mix of twitching electro and downtempo funk. An irresistible, idiosyncratic listen.

  • GIRL BAND - Holding Hands With Jamie (Explicit)Contains explicit content
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    Boundaries are of little importance to Mullingar-locals Girl Band. In their blistering take on one of Blawan’s savage cuts, the four-piece established their disregard for guitar-rock conventions, and the decision to base their debut album on the psychotic episode of lead-singer Dara Kiely continues this non-conformity. Striking the perfect balance between brilliant and bizarre, Holding Hands With Jamie sees Kiely and co annihilating eardrums in nine electrifying blows. Surreal lyrical content - ranging from Sudocrem to Top Gear - is mercilessly buried beneath visceral, techno-inspired noise-rock, filled with raw, puncturing distortion. A thrilling debut.

  • VILLAGERS - Darling Arithmetic
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    Where 2013’s {Awayland} saw Conor O’Brien expanding Villagers into a collaborative project, and upsizing his arrangements, this follow-up marks a return to his solo roots. Self-recorded at home in Malahide, near Dublin, Darling Arithmetic finds O’Brien favouring the intimacy of acoustic guitar and piano, and deliberately eschewing figurative language in order to deal candidly with former relationships. As both the title-track and album opener ‘Courage’ attest, the sparser the arrangements, the more devastating the listening. The fact these deeply-personal stories feel universal can only be testament to O’Brien’s skill as a songwriter.

  • Ham Sandwich - Stories from the Surface
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    Ham SandwicH haven’t had it easy. While U2 frontman Bono openly condemned their quirky choice of name, the Kells quintet then suffered the loss of their manager just prior to recording their second LP. Fast forward to the present, and a sense of restored pride imbues Stories From The Surface, a triumphant 10-tracker which captures the band’s self-proclaimed “braver” approach. Fusing traditional Irish music with a warm indie-pop swing, this effortless return showcases Niamh Farrell's bittersweet vocals beautifully. Irresistible indie-folk for fans of Fleetwood Mac to soak up.

  • Jape - This Chemical Sea
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    Dublin electronic-rock outfit Jape may have earned themselves a Choice Music Prize and a Prins Thomas remix since their 2003 debut, but frontman Richie Egan has come very close to quitting. About ready to throw the towel in while halfway-through album number five, a sudden epiphany inspired him to take back the reins, informing the confident manner of This Chemical Sea. While the band’s jaunty synth-pop edge dominates on the percussive ‘Metamorphosis’, mastering by David Wrench of FKA Twigs’ LP1 adds a subdued, weightless quality, helping make Jape’s latest record an unexpectedly calm and content affair.

  • LE GALAXIE - Le Club
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    Kitsch record sleeves, dazzling face-paint, laser light-shows: it’s not hard to see why LE GALAXIE have been dubbed Ireland’s “party band”. After storming the UK festival circuit with their enthralling performances, the Dublin quartet now effortlessly translate the furore of their fiercely likeable live presence into a polished second album. Like their Daft Punk-inspired debut, Le Club reimagines the magic of 80s-era synthpop, only second time around there’s a dash more gloss to the production, no doubt a result of the crossover appeal of early anthems like ‘Midnight Midnight’. A Technicolor taster of one of Ireland’s most colourful contemporary bands.

  • Colm Mac Con Iomaire - And Now the Weather
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    For somebody who’s had a plethora of side projects on the go since since his 2008 debut, it was never going to be easy to predict quite how The Frames and Kila founder Colm Mac Con Iomaire’s follow-up album might sound. Recorded in no less than five different cities in collaboration with over 20 musicians, And Now The Weather functions as something of a metaphor for the accomplished violinist and film composer’s vast and varied repertoire, spanning classical, soul and folk across 11 stunning instrumentals. Simultaneously soothing and haunting, it’s a timely reminder of Iomaire’s expertise in building lush, cinematic soundscapes, and provides a great entry point for new listeners.

  • Young Wonder - Birth
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    When we first fell for Young Wonder’s self-titled EP back in 2012, Rachel Koeman and Ian Ring had only recently embarked upon the project as newly-introduced friends-of-friends. Readying an effortlessly organic-sounding release within mere months of meeting, the pair have been on the critics’ radar since, and their debut full-length is, unsurprisingly, a flawless listen. Inspired by records picked up in India, Birth incorporates tropes from world music, balancing Ring’s urban, dubstep-influenced production with warm, tuned percussion and Koeman’s honeyed, Björk-esque vocals. If you’re as mesmerised by the duo’s wistful charm as we are, you’ll be left itching to hear more.

Reduced nominations