Losing Sleep

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I gave you the first part of my favourite albums of 2010 yesterday and today I present my top ten long players from the year gone by. Neil Young has released more albums than the rest of the acts on this list put together and he’s been doing it for five decades now. Fortunately, his talent shows no sign of abating and a lot of the younger whippersnappers below could learn a thing or two from his approach to making music. The title of Le Noise is a pun on the last name of its producer and Daniel Lanois has produced another excellent recording that shows Young’s voice at its best as well as some simple but effective riffing. My favourite tracks on the album are Love & War and The Hitchiker. These two songs stand out for me because they contain some of the most personal writing I’ve heard from a songwriter who’s at the top of his game. The next singer doesn’t write her own material, but is closest in years to Young. I Learned It the Hard Way by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings actually sounds like it could have been released anytime during the heyday of soul music in the sixties and seventies. The Dap-Kings provide wonderful backing to Jones’ powerful voice on a dozen songs that primarily focus on romantic relationships and financial concerns

Every few weeks I trawl through the Guardian’s New Band of the Day list to see which ones might be worth checking out. Two of the bands I found there this year have made it into my final ten. Beach House is a duo from Baltimore composed of Victoria Legrand on vocals and organ and Alex Scally on guitar and keyboards. Teen Dream is actually their third album and I like it for its dreamy vocals and sparse instrumentation. In contrast, I like What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood by The Mynabirds for its more forceful sound and Laura Burnhenn’s vocals that remind me of those of Cat Power and Jenny Lewis. Matt Berninger’s vocals have always drawn me towards The National and they are one of the highlights on High Violet, the band’s strong follow-up to Boxer (2007). Arcade Fire have continued the successful style of their first two releases with The Suburbs, an album that combines a multitude of instruments and voices to create another collection of strong tunes. On Losing Sleep, Edwyn Collins sings about life and death in an articulate and moving manner. Collins overcame a double haemorrhage in 2005 to write this collection of songs in which he has been joined by such musical luminaries as Johnny Marr, Roddy Frame and Alex Kapranos. John Grant left his band The Czars and music behind him as he sought refuge from his own personal hell in the form of drink and drugs. He was forced into giving up his job as a waiter when Midlake persuaded him to record the highly personal songs that would become the Queen of Denmark album. Midlake also provide the musical backing on an album that I only discovered as a result of its strong placing on a number of year-end polls

The final two records on my list were were nominees for this year’s Mercury Music Prize. In fact, 20-year-old Laura Marling received her second nomination for her second album, I Speak Because I Can. I must admit that it took me a while to get into the album, but it’s been worth the effort as Marling’s voice and songs have slowly crept up on me. My favourite album of the year, however, comes from Conor J. O’Brien’s Villagers. I bought Becoming a Jackal on the strength of O’Brien’s amazing rendition of the title track on Later with Jools Holland last April. As on Marling’s record, the melodies aren’t apparent at first, but O’Brien’s wonderful rendition of his evocative lyrics make you keep returning to discover the beauty of the music within. Villagers have already supported Neil Young and this month’s issue of Mojo magazine sees them contribute a fine version of Old Man to a tribute to his Harvest album. Sharon Jones is ably backed by the Dap-Kings on their cover of the title track from Shuggie Otis’ 1974 album. Blues Run the Game is from Jackson C. Frank’s 1965 eponymous debut and Laura Marling’s recent version is a fine addition to the many interpretations of his most famous song

Old Man (Neil Young cover) – Villagers

Inspiration Information (Shuggie Otis cover) – Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings

Blues Run The Game (Jackson C Frank cover) – Laura Marling