Clash Essential 50 - 18-15

Part nine, already? Yup... with Isolee, The Bug and more...
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The Clash Essential 50, in a nutshell: the 50 greatest, most significant, downright brilliant albums of Clash’s lifetime. We need them, which means you, too, most probably need them.

Why? Clash celebrates its fifth birthday in April. It’s not an anniversary to make too much of a fuss about – we’ll save that for our tenth, thank you very much – but worth marking all the same. And what better way to look forward to the next few years of Clash than a look back at some of our ‘greatest hits’.

The Clash Essential 50 was compiled by the core Clash editorial team – should you disagree with any of our selections, which will be counted down throughout April, you know where to go to have your own opinion heard.

We’re well on track again, after yesterday’s double-entry edition. Double entry? That sounds rude. Or like a pair of naughty burglars are tiptoeing around your flat in the early hours. Anyway…

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
PART FOUR
PART FIVE
PART SIX
PARTS SEVEN AND EIGHT

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18
The Bug, ‘London Zoo’
(2008; Ninja Tune)

‘London Zoo’ is a beautiful beast, following the capital’s long tradition of twisting Jamaican music into new forms with its teeth bared and claws flexed. Kevin Martin, recording an LP as The Bug for the third time, puts together a fearsome take on sound-system culture which sees the cold, impersonal streets of London glowing in the light of dub’s Babylonian fire – all cavernous bass, dancehall rhythms and imperiously dark and crunchy beats.

If you’re looking for a handy genre to slap on the album, Boomkat’s tag of ‘industro-dub’ is pretty close to the mark. The introspective instrumentals of dub’s other recent mutation, dubstep, are nowhere to be found here: these cuts are club-friendly monsters, with vocal hooks riding straight, if insanely heavy, beats. It’s Martin’s most accessible music to date, stripping some of the abrasive clutter of previous outings back to reveal pop flourishes aplenty.

It’s also bloody raging. Tippa Irie kicks the album off with, appropriately, ‘Angry’, toasting over a sparse, pacey ragga-bass pulse to reel off a list of things that piss him off, from the rape of Africa by Europeans to the USA’s response to Hurricane Katrina. While the tempo fluxes across ‘London Zoo’, the sentiment doesn’t weaken. The toasters and singers keep up the intensity across the album, with fine showings from Ricky Ranking, Killa P, Flow Dan and Kode9’s go-to guy, Spaceape.

Special mention goes to Warrior Queen. She runs the show on standout track ‘Poison Dart’, taking on a sea of throbbing bass most MCs would drown in. It’s an imperious performance. When she says “a boy think sey me soft”, you’ve got to wonder if the man in question has ears: it’s the dub sister of PJ Harvey’s scarily aggressive ‘Rid of Me’.

As you’d expect from an album steeped in south London’s reggae roots and the darkness of grimey dub, it’s the bass that weaves all the collaborators together into a coherent whole. By turns enveloping and destructive, it pulls you along like a rip tide and leaves you feeling elated but bruised – it’s a glorious experience. Let this album have its way: let the deep spaces of the low end consume you.

Words: Nick Tebbutt

The Bug – ‘Poison Dart’



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17
Brian Wilson, ‘SMiLE’
(2004; Nonesuch)

Started in 1966. Released in 2004. That’s quite the gestation period.

Not that the hold up mattered: upon its release, the former Beach Boy’s legendary (and assumed perpetual) work-in-progress was met with huge critical acclaim. Brian Wilson may have had his doubts about bringing the record’s constituent pieces together, but clearly his fans – new and old (and we mean old) – were feverous with expectation, and their hopes were well matched.

Deeply conceptual of lyric, with the album playing out across three chapters, or suites, ‘SMiLE’ was a rich tapestry of pop through the ages; as contemporary of feel as anything else released the same year, yet rooted in an era long forgotten by many a music buyer. Following a journey of sorts from coast to coast across the USA, it’s a love letter and an observation of foibles in one; but never does it get too bogged in the mire of retrospection, reliant on nostalgia to carry its thematic weight.

It’s an album of immense depth, its revisiting of prime period glories and reinventing of established favourites a captivating listen; and ultimately, its charms number too many for succinct dissection here. Owners know the truth: ‘SMiLE’ is the most-acclaimed album on Metacritic’s records for a reason. If you’re yet to lend it an ear, it’s warmly recommended in your direction.

Brian Wilson – ‘Heroes And Villains’



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16
Isolée, ‘We Are Monster’
(2005; Playhouse)

Dance music is rarely enjoyed over an album. Have a quick butcher’s up and down this list and the ‘proper’ bands rule. This is because dance music is utilitarian in its nature. It makes you move in ways that, on a Wednesday afternoon, you’d just get laughed at for pulling off. Yet in the right environment the simplest of formulas can push your rhythmic buttons like never before. So when Isolée dropped ‘We Are Monster’, a functioning dance album with a track for nearly every hour of a weekend day, jaws were dropped in synchronicity.

At times smart and swish, then at other points loose and narcotic, its atmosphere is unchained and free. It dabbles with darkness: a lysergic edge which Isolée doesn’t abuse, instead deploying it rarely to add contrast to his live drums, his lazy high hats and roasting hot analogue bass. Surprisingly for a dance producer ‘We Are Monster’ never gets sucked under by thundering beats or subsumed by a singular or belligerent vision of how to move people’s behinds.

Tracks such as ‘Shrappnell’ are far removed from conventional dance circles; rather, they sound like some philharmonic orchestra being conducted by acid hHouse pioneer Ron Hardy as non-quantised beats rule under chrome and retro-futuristic chimes of confusing origin. It is reminiscent of indie electronic pop without the dating shackles of a spot-lit vocalist – and its musicality is irrefutable from top to bottom, as Rajko Müller daubs more shades and colours across his musical canvas than many dance producers can manage over 30 different singles.

Isolée’s minimalist credentials surface occasionally, with trademarked glitches and sounds forged only under extreme studio duress let loose to pop and crackle across so many varied sonic soundscapes. But they are tied together enough to give the music the legs to coast an album’s duration.

Epic tracks such as ‘My Hi-Matic’ are clubbers’ gold dust, the effort an analogue dream that wants to carry you into the next galaxy. Indeed, it now appears as the blueprint for many space-disco anthem a la Oslovian retro hero Lindstrom.

‘We Are Monster’ thus holds its space here, pinned down and surrounded by transient bands whose battle with medium and format is much more conventionalised. This album goes past essential. It is mandatory, not just to listen to but to own, preferably on vinyl so its dusty and analogue swoon can carry you into its distinct futuristic vision – way, way past the moon.

Words: Matthew Bennett

Isolee – ‘Face B’



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15
My Morning Jacket, ‘Z’
(2005; ATO)

In which the Kentucky hair bear bunch get serious.

Whereas My Morning Jacket's first three long-players were self produced and recorded on former band member Johnny Quaid's family farm, 'Z' saw experienced old hand John Leckie (Radiohead, The Stone Roses) head up the sessions in New York State's Catskill Mountains, helping the band achieve an previously unforeseen cohesion.

The loss of two founding members, and the introduction of two new ones, also informed the mood of the album, allowing them to shed any “well, that's how we've always done it” working methods and embrace the new ideas and techniques brought by the experienced producer.

An equally important shift was the decision to maybe turn down the reverb a little (well, a lot) on frontman Jim James' vocals, previously one of the most recognisable elements of the band's sound. My Morning Jacket's earlier efforts had found James seemingly recorded while trapped down a deep well (the band had used the grain silo on the Quaid farm as an oversized echo chamber); on 'Z', his impressive voice was given its deserved centre stage billing, howling on opener 'Wordless Chorus', unleashing an unholy scream on 'Gideon' and showing softer tones and a pleasing Kentucky burr on 'Knot Comes Loose'.

Another new development on 'Z' was the unashamed use of synthesisers, providing the opening deep bass at the album’s start and some of the more exotic touches throughout. A notable development given the band's perceived 'jam band' tag in the US and all its attendant Luddite connotations.

With a wide enough scope to please both FM rock radio and those who like their music with a little more spice, 'Z' remains the moment when My Morning Jacket outgrew their homespun beginnings and became the widely feted modern rock band that most recently brought us 'Evil Urges'.

Words: Nick Annan

My Morning Jacket – ‘It Beats 4 U’ (unofficial video)



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The Clash Essential 50 so far…

50: The Killers, ‘Hot Fuss’
49: Kasabian, ‘Kasabian’
48: Deerhunter, ‘Microcastle’
47: Bat For Lashes, ‘Fur and Gold’
46: Vampire Weekend, ‘Vampire Weekend’
45: MGMT, ‘Oracular Spectacular’
44: Portishead, ‘Third’
43: Elbow, ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’
42: Amy Winehouse, ‘Back To Black’
41: Santigold, ‘Santigold’
40: Late Of The Pier, ‘Fantasy Black Channel’
39: Sigur Rós, ‘Takk…’
38: Efterklang, ‘Parades’
37: Liars, ‘Drum’s Not Dead’
36: The White Stripes, ‘Get Behind Me Satan’
35: Hot Chip, ‘The Warning’
34: Fleet Foxes, ‘Fleet Foxes’
33: Benga, ‘Diary Of An Afro Warrior’
32: Feist, ‘The Reminder’
31: Broadcast, ‘Tender Buttons’
30: Battles, ‘Mirrored’
29: Klaxons, ‘Myths Of The Near Future’
28: Tunng, ‘Mother’s Daughter And Other Songs’
27: The Libertines, ‘The Libertines’
26: Kanye West, ‘The College Dropout’
25: Apparat, ‘Walls’
24: Burial, ‘Burial’
23: Gallows, ‘Orchestra Of Wolves’
22: Caribou, ‘The Milk Of Human Kindness’
21: Broken Social Scene, ‘Broken Social Scene’
20: Sufjan Stevens, ‘Illinois’
19: Soulwax, ‘Nite Versions’
18: The Bug, ‘London Zoo’
17: Brian Wilson, ‘SMiLE’
16: Isolée, ‘We Are Monster’
15: My Morning Jacket, ‘Z’

Coming tomorrow: numbers 14 to 11. And then it’s the TOP TEN, OMG et cetera.

My my, aren’t things getting interesting? YES, say we. NO, say you? Whatever, get involved. CLICK HERE to register and get commenting on our Clash Essential 50. If you're already part of the gang, just add your words below...

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