There was never going to be one firm, overall opinion on who should win this year's Mercury Prize. As Twitter users took to the social networking site to air their frustration at the decision to award electronic musician James Blake this year's Mercury Award (mainly asking "Who is James Blake?", which happens every year: "Who even is Alt-J?" "Who the fuck is Speech Debelle?") I too felt surprised by the announcement: however, I also had a firm sense it had gone to the right person.
Released two years after his eponymous debut, which was also lauded by critics and recieved a Mercury nod, Overgrown marked a departure in the restless Blake's sound. His debut was a brooding, dark collection of fuzzy, distorted electronic beats with wobbly, humming bass and yearning vocals. Blake then released two EPs, which showcased a definite new and exciting influence on his sound - R&B and soul.
Blake's 2012 brushes with boundary-pushing hip hop kingpin Kanye West are said to have influenced the soul-tinged electronic beats of Overgrown, and it seems West possibly lent Blake some of his swagger, as Overgrown bristles with a quiet confidence. From the haunting, blossoming opener of title track 'Overgrown', to the hip hop infused beats of 'Life Round Here', and of course, the completely astounding, spine-chilling 'Retrograde', the first five tracks of the album alone are quite something.
Overgrown morphs into a slightly different beast for the second half - it almost challenges you with its gradual inaccessibility. The almost overwhelming 'Digital Lion' and the In Rainbows-esque 'Voyeur' still impress, but the record climaxes with a return to Blake's roots - a soft, delicate piano infused electronic ballad that is the perfect full stop to Overgrown.
It's a complex, layered record, and it's almost dizzying to think about when you consider how much went into its creation. Multiple instruments, influences - and it's all courtesy of one man. Mainly, Overgrown is a showcase for Blake's towering, intimidating talent.
Overgrown is a modern record - it's everything that the Mercury Music Prize claims to stand for. It doesn't hark back to anything, it doesn't remind you of anything, and its schizophrenic spread of tracks is almost a metaphor for the hurried, constant, emotional, unrelenting lives we live. And that's why it is the album of 2013 - it deserves the Mercury Prize.