The RTÉ Choice Music Prize for Irish album of the year takes place this Thursday in Vicar Street. Tickets are available from €28 + fees.

As the same time as the 10 artists nominated take to the stage (and the popular vote-driven, less weighted song of the year winner is announced), the 10 judges will spend their time deliberating the merits of each album in a locked room, so the live performances have no bearing on the outcome. It’s an award that is hard to predict and comes down to the likes and dislikes of the ten particular judges in the room; how passionate they feel about certain genres, lyrics, sounds and what consensus about the best album from the list forms while they are that room.

Recent years have seen worthy wins for Rusangano Family , Soak, The Gloaming, Villagers and Jape. All the recent albums were deemed worthy winners by critics in advance, despite varying degrees of album popularity. So with that in mind, here’s a look at the runners this year.

We start with the list of actual judges who picked the 10 albums below.

Judging Panel

Kate Brennan Harding – Today FM
Martin Byrne – Music Consultant – Glasdrum / ex Other Voices
Stephen Byrne – GoldenPlec
Tracy Clifford – 2FM
Alan Donovan – Red FM
Dave Hanratty – Freelance journalist & broadcaster with NO ENCORE podcast
Hugh Linehan – Irish Times Culture/Arts/Ticket Editor
Ann Marie Shields – BIMM
Lilian Smith – RTE Radio 1
Danny Wilson – Totally Dublin.

As discussed upon the first announcement,  the lack of a Northern Irish judge on the panel has meant that there was less chance that records from Bicep, Joshua Burnside or ASIWYFA on the list (a regional judge would have been more likely to hear these records local to them by osmosis, and put them forward). Choice chairman Tony Clayton-Lea responded to criticism on Twitter about that saying they had an NI judge on the panel who pulled out and who wasn’t replaced due to short notice which is a real shame, and contributes too much Dublin bias overall. Parking that aside for now, let’s look at each album’s chances.

Shortlisted albums

Come On Live Long – In The Still

Come On Live Long’s second album In The Still is a fine record but it felt like it flew under the radar generally speaking with the band premiering the album on Nialler9 and with the band members living in different countries, live dates were few and far between to support the release. So it felt like a surprise that it made the list, especially as the album’s textured tracks are less immediate than the band’s previous album back in 2013.

Does it have a chance?
It feels unlikely that consensus would form in the room over a release that rewards patience and time over immediacy. It’s a good record for sure, but I can’t see this winning over a majority.

Favourite track: ‘In the Still’:

Marlene Enright – Placemats and Second Cuts

Another somewhat surprising but heartening addition to this year’s list that was also premiered on Nialler9. Cork singer-songwriter Enright was formerly a singer with The Hard Ground and her contributions were always a highlight of that band. On her own steam, Enright settles into a comfortable and pleasing groove of songs that bring in organ-lines, spacious arrangements, rolling rhythms to support Enright’s voice which carries a magnetic swirl and focus to it. It’s a charming record with warm tones and well-written songs.

Does it have a chance?
It may be the case that the judges will find this album pleasant but won’t argue passionately for it. One that may have to settle for the live Choice show experience and with an acclaimed album to build on.

Favourite track: ‘123’

Fangclub – Fangclub

The only album on this year’s list on a major label (Universal), Fang Club’s self-titled debut does one thing really well – mine grunge music of the past with updated modern production for an engaging if unvaried rock album.

Does it have a chance?
Grunge and rock aren’t dominant or as vital genres in today’s music landscape as they once were and the judges may inevitably end up comparing the band’s relevance in 2018 to the greats who have done it better 20 to 30 years ago.

Favourite track: ‘Bullethead’:

Lankum – Beneath the Earth and the Sky

The second album from folk miscreants Lankum (formerly Lynched) was released on Rough Trade and offers a slightly more polished take on their punkish trad sound. Here’s a band who are traditional in the way the genre intends covering folk songs of the past alongside new compositions in a gritty and youthful style that marks itself apart from the Dubliners and the Fureys of the world. There’s plenty to enjoy here especially the eight-minute state-of-our-nation ‘Deanta in Eireann’ and the evocative version of folk song ‘What Will We Do When We Have No Money?’ but as an album overall, it jumps between styles and tempos jarringly enough which may work against it as a whole album release.

Does it have a chance?
It certainly does, considering The Gloaming’s contemporary take on trad won three years ago, but it depends on the judges’ overall susceptibility to the band’s take on trad. It is an album of definite Irish extraction, which may help when choosing an Irish album of the year.

Favourite track: ‘Deanta in Eireann’

James Vincent McMorrow – True Care

The fourth album from James Vincent McMorrow arrived so hot on the heels on his previous album that it was a surprise  announced a week before release. As such, it was also made in a different way to McMorrow’s other long players. Made quickly and self-recorded over the course of five months, mean that the album is unburdened by any commercial expectation and features some of McMorrow’s most interesting work. The hasty production also means that the songs don’t burn as clear or as bright as his last album We Move, which had modern R&B production. True Care is more intimate, less concerned with big gestures and lyrically, more interested in home truths. So much so that the artist annotated the album’s lyrics on Genius in advance of release.

Does it have a chance?
The Choice judges have not proved to be people who traditionally award the prize to repeat nominees. McMorrow’s been nominated for every album thus far and has yet to win it. The Choice chairman will tell the judges that you decide on each album’s own merit but it may help sway the room in a year where there’s no one obvious winner. It also helps that the album is McMorrow’s truest creative expression in long-form yet. A really good chance this will win.

Favourite track: ‘National’

New Jackson – From Night to Night

David Kitt’s long-awaited debut as New Jackson didn’t disappoint for fans of his night-time analogue electronica. Kitt has constructed a deft collection of dancefloor-centric music that draws from the worlds of house and techno without sacrificing its own identity. It’s an album that has a soft nocturnal edge. Some of the best New Jackson songs thus far in my estimation, were released before or after the album on EPs and singles, like ‘Having A Coke With You’, ‘There Will Always Be This Love’ or ‘Sat  Around Here Waiting’ being personal favourites but the album overall works as a long-player of two sides.

Does it have a chance?
A full electronic dancefloor album is always going to have a hard time getting a winning consensus from ten disparate judges so it feels unlikely. A worthy inclusion on the list but unlikely to be first choice.

Favourite track: ‘From Night To Night’.

Otherkin – OK

The Dublin indie-rock band Otherkin feel like a band out of time with what’s going on around them. Here’s a band who write capable and catchy indie-rock songs with pop-leaning choruses but it feels in thrall to a scene and sound that has long since fallen out of favour – namely London and NME of the late 90s. The songs sound ripe for Rimmel London ad placements. While it’s a fun and highly-targetted listen, OK doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Lyrically, there’s not much more than a veneer of melody at play.

Does it have a chance?
A fine singalong indie rock album in a historic sea of them.

Favourite track: ‘Ay Ay’

Fionn Regan – The Meetings of the Waters

A curious release from Fionn Regan. Five years since his last full-length and it sounds like time away has left him with a renewed sense of purpose. The Meetings Of The Waters feels like a stepping stone to a new path for Regan as opposed to the final destination. Ditching the Dylan-influence completely, the album largely features meditative spacious folk music that sustains quietly like smouldering embers and a centrepiece of three tracks with more layered rock music-style songs.

Does it have a chance?
Doubtful. The album’s meandering style is miles away from the folk singer-songwriter sound that made his name, and while that is not a bad thing, The Meetings of the Waters feels like an artist in transition and I think the judges will recognise that.

Favourite track: ‘The Meetings of The Waters’.

Ships – Precession

Ships’ debut was my favourite Irish album of last year. Characterised by intricately-produced synthesiser-driven electronic pop, the songs here have groove, funk and space, which draws from the past and sounds very much of the now. Whether its the gleaming disco-funk of ‘All Will Be’, the psychedelic space-rock of ‘I Can Never’ which is reminiscent of Tame Impala, the deep peaks of ‘Around This World’ or the electro delay of ‘None Of It Real’, McGrath and Cullen deliver commanding vocal performances too that bury these triumphant tunes deeper.

Does it have a chance?
A dark horse contender for sure. It’s well-produced, engaging, unique and lyrically considered. I would love to see this win and it very well may.

Favourite track: ‘All Will Be’

Talos – Wild Alee

Cork man Eoin French’s debut as Talos makes towering glacial soundscapes that feel built for his falsetto voice to rest upon. At its peaks, the Ross Dowling-produced album has slow-building anthemic choruses and many moments of instrumental beauty in its midst, that draws on a perfect storm of swirling sonics, guitar, synths and electronics. French’s voice is a powerhouse too – a breaking, powerful instrument that needs little else at times to engage with the listener.

Does it have a chance?
It’s certainly a beautiful album and one that has been critically very well-received. I just have a feeling that overall, it may be viewed as not having quite enough for the judges to argue on its behalf when it comes down to whittling down the albums to a final three.

Favourite track: ‘Odyssey’

So who will win?

After considering every album on the list, I think it’s  James Vincent McMorrow, Ships or Lankum in that order.