Scottish rock band Franz Ferdinand and teenage soul singer Joss Stone lead the shortlist for this year's Mercury Music Prize announced on Tuesday.
Franz Ferdinand's debut is among those nominated
Rockers Keane, dance duo Basement Jaxx and R&B star Amy Winehouse were among other artists to make the final 12.
Veteran solo artist Robert Wyatt and rap newcomer Ty are among the surprise additions to this year's list.
The prize honours the best album of the last year by a UK or Irish act, chosen from a wide range of musical genres.
See the shortlisted albums
But there is no place in the shortlist for jazz sensation Jamie Cullum or former Smiths singer Morrissey - both of whom had been hotly tipped.
Indie bands The Zutons, Snow Patrol and Belle & Sebastian also make the cut, along with Mike Skinner's garage outfit The Streets and R&B artist Jamelia. Five of the albums are debuts.
Stuart Murdoch, frontman of Scottish band Belle & Sebastian, said : "It's nice to see some younger bands coming through. We've just been hanging around like a bad smell for years and finally we have a nomination.
"We might actually sell a few records now."
Abi Harding, of Liverpool band The Zutons, told BBC News Online they were "amazed and shocked" to have reached the shortlist.
"We were on our way to the studio this morning when we got a call to say we'd made it... we just didn't expect it. I didn't even realise it was the announcement today."
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Drummer Sean Payne added: "It's not because we didn't have confidence in our music, because we have, we just weren't sure if our music would be 'right' for the prize."
Bookmaker William Hill immediately made Franz Ferdinand and The Streets joint 3/1 favourites, with Amy Winehouse, Snow Patrol and Keane joint second on 6/1.
Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody said winning the prize would top what had already been a fantastic year.
He said: "It's mad because we have always been one of those bands who attracted the 'select few' but the last few festival experiences have completely blown our minds."
Simon Frith, chair of the judges, said: "This is an exceptional year, most dramatically illustrated by the emergence of several new and varied bands together with outstanding work by three powerful female singers.
"The shortlist also recognises the continued good health of the gloriously eclectic world that is British and Irish music."
Glasgow art-rockers Franz Ferdinand have become darlings of the critics with their million-selling debut album and triumphant performance at this year's Glastonbury festival.
Teen soul star Joss Stone is also on the shortlist
Joss Stone's debut, produced by soul legend Betty Wright, has been acclaimed around the world. Many fans were amazed to discover that the pure soul vocal belonged to a 17-year-old from Devon.
Amy Winehouse, a 20-year-old from north London, is also included for her debut, a blend of emotionally raw jazz and R&B delivered with a biting wit and defiant attitude.
Keane, winners of BBC News Online's most promising new music act of 2004, are shortlisted for their debut album Hopes and Fears. The trio feature an unconventional rock line-up of vocals, piano and drums.
Robert Wyatt began his musical career in the 1960s with the renowned psychedelic rock band Soft Machine. Now 59, he straddles jazz, folk and pop, and has worked with such diverse performers as Brian Eno, Elvis Costello and Annie Whitehead.
London-based rapper Ty is a stalwart of the UK's hip-hop scene, with a growing reputation based on his club appearances. Upwards is his second album, released on Roots Manuva's label Big Dada.
Ty told BBC News Online he hoped his nomination would help lift his profile after 16 years in the business.
The Streets second album was widely acclaimed
"I've put out a flaming good record, my best work to date and I think I'm getting patted on the back slowly.
"My music is screaming out to be accepted across the board and I'm ready for it.
"I know I'm going to win, I've won already."
The Mercury Prize is voted for by a panel of music industry experts, journalists and music artists from an original choice of 180 albums.
It is seen in some quarters as a credible alternative to the more mainstream Brit Awards, but critics have accused it of being wilfully obscure and picking "token" acts from classical, folk and jazz fields.
Previous winners include Primal Scream, PJ Harvey, Roni Size, Gomez and last year's victor Dizzee Rascal.
Other big-name winners have included Portishead, Pulp, Suede and M People, but judges have chosen to overlook major acts such as Radiohead, U2, Oasis, Coldplay and Dido.
The winner can expect a sudden whirlwind of media attention and an immediate leap in album sales.
Sales of Dizzee Rascal's victorious Boy In Da Corner album went up 150% the day after he won last year.
The winner will be announced on 7 September, and there will be coverage on BBC Two, BBC Four and BBC Radio 1.
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Mercury Music Prize 2004 shortlist:
Basement Jaxx - Kish Kash
Belle & Sebastian - Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
Jamelia - Thank You
Keane - Hopes and Fears
Snow Patrol - Final Straw
Joss Stone - The Soul Sessions
The Streets - A Grand Don't Come for Free
Ty - Upwards
Amy Winehouse - Frank
Robert Wyatt - Cuckooland
The Zutons - Who Killed The Zutons