The shortlist for the Nationwide Mercury Prize has been unveiled in London, featuring a typically broad range of musical tastes dominated this year by new, alternative artists.

The award, which highlights the best 12 British or Irish albums of the previous year, has previously been won by an illustrious string of names, including Franz Ferdinand, Primal Scream and last year's victors, Arctic Monkeys.

Arctic Monkeys will defend their title as their sophomore effort "Favourite Worst Nightmare" (Domino) is on the 2007 shortlist.

Another former winner, rapper Dizzee Rascal, also returns to the list with his "Maths + English" (XL) set, alongside Amy Winehouse for her acclaimed "Back to Black" (Island) record.

Arctic Monkeys and Winehouse have been installed by William Hill bookmakers as early joint favorites to take the prize, with odds of 4/1. Dizzee Rascal has odds of 8/1.

The other nominees, announced at London venue the Hospital, with William Hill odds, are: Bat for Lashes' "Fur and Gold" (Echo/EMI) (10/1); Fionn Regan's "The End of History" (Lost Highway) (10/1); New Young Pony Club's "Fantastic Playroom" (Modular) (12/1); Klaxons' "Myths of the Near Future" (Rinse/Polydor) (8/1); the Young Knives' "Voices of Animals and Men" (Transgressive) (10/1); Maps' "We Can Create" (Mute) (12/1); the View's "Hats Off to the Buskers" (1965) (8/1); Jamie T's "Panic Prevention" (Virgin) (8/1); and Basquiat Strings' "Basquiat Strings with Seb Rochford" (F-Ire) (12/1).

The winner, whittled down from a long-list of more than 230 entries, will be announced Sept. 4 at a ceremony in London.

The prize will be decided on the night by a panel, chaired by academic Simon Frith.

Since its inception in 1992, the Mercury Prize has become an increasingly important event on the U.K. music calendar, generating sales boosts for nominated acts.

"To the artists who are on the list, it's tremendously important. The smaller the artists are, the more important it becomes," Conor McNicholas, editor of weekly music newspaper NME and Mercury Prize panellist, tells Billboard.biz.

"For artists such as Fionn Regan or Young Knives it's a massive opportunity to get national awareness. It can revolutionize their career. People will go out and buy these records in the 10s of 1,000s."

Zoe Rahman, a relatively unknown jazz pianist before her Mercury Prize nomination last year, says the positives of landing on the Mercury shortlist are long-lasting.

"It's a amazing opportunity," Rahman, who is also on the panel of judges, tells Billboard.biz. "There are a number of artists up there who I am really exited about, who are like I was last year. Now I have a manager and PR people. I've just come back from playing at one of the biggest jazz festivals in the world. And record sales [since Mercury Prize 2006] have been fantastic."

Chatting to Billboard.biz following the nominations presentation, the View's frontman Kyle Falconer swas nonchalant about its chances of winning the £20,000 ($40,000) prize. "We didn't really know too much about it, until everyone started speaking about [the Mercury Prize) in the last few days. I don't think we'll win. I'm not sure [who will], but I want Jamie T to win. I like him. Or Amy Winehouse."

Labels see Mercury Prize nomination as a reward for creative excellence. "The whole idea of the Mercurys is to outline some of the exciting, innovative and urgent bands coming through which do not necessarily break into the mainstream," says Miles Leonard, managing director of EMI's Parlophone Records label. EMI is represented on the shortlist by Jamie T, Maps and Bat for Lashes. "It gives an opportunity to break unrecognized records. To be nominated for a Mercury is a fine accolade."