While it may never compete with the Grammys and the Brits for international prestige, the U.K.'s Mercury Music Prize is nevertheless one of the most respectable awards a musician can hope to win. Voted for by industry insiders and journalists—so, notionally, "experts"—it's open to artists with a British or Irish background, and its annual shortlist is often winningly idiosyncratic.
Founded 23 years ago, the Mercury shortlist always includes an obscure, chin-stroking entrant (or five) few have heard of before. Although previous winners include Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys, PJ Harvey, and Elbow, others—Talvin Singh, Speech Debelle, Young Fathers—remained every bit as cult after their victory as they had been before. This year's shortlist, as ever, reassures in its eclecticism.