Clash Essential 50 - 38-35

Part four features some avant-garde sorts...
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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.

Part four, and things are getting SERIOUS, DUDE.

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE

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38
Efterklang, ‘Parades’
(2007; Leaf)

You’ll see many a great record listed in this Essential 50 countdown – hopefully, in their own special way, every entry is worthy of such categorising – but few will stir you quite as singularly as this absorbing epic from Danish collective Efterklang.

‘Parades’ is the last album this writer awarded a perfect score to, a 10/10 review absolutely, to these ears, deserved. It’s an album that delicately reveals myriad layers of emotionally rich nuances, every shimmer of electronica matched by something wholly organic, something from the heart via a succession of circuit boards and computer screens. Every tiny click, each sweep, every vocal you can’t quite understand but that you feel – these and more have their places, all vital in the grand design of this ambitiously widescreen long-player.

Here’s a little snippet of what I wrote then, as relevant now as it was two years ago:

“‘Parades’ is the culmination of all the potential Efterklang have ever exhibited; a sumptuous, symphonic masterpiece of crackled circuitry and classical compositional skill, drenched in harmonies that spill from instruments too varied to list yet that combine quite brilliantly to craft pieces that know no creative boundaries. This is music full of spirit, of invention; it’s music that rises and rises, lifting the listener as it reaches the sort of height once the reserve of Radiohead, Sigur Rós and Arcade Fire.” (copyright: DrownedinSound.com)

Listening again, today, what’s remarkable is how much I’m still discovering in ‘Parades’; sat between stereo speakers, its tones and textures wash up against me, the sensation a prickle here, a stroke there; always, the music prompts a reaction, and always that response is a positive one. The multiple facets of single arrangements, if broken down, number too many to accurately count – like shards of a broken jewel, each has its beauty but is so much more when combined to create something utterly extraordinary.

‘Parades’ is one of those truly rare records that, and this can only be a subjective perspective, is entirely without fault. Many an acclaimed record soon pales as successors trump its triumphs, and many an album of the year is flawed by its over playing, familiarity breeding not contempt, but certainly a mild indifference. By not dipping into ‘Parades’ as often as I could have – it requires the right atmosphere for best reception, one where the air is still and the mind rests easy – it retains a distinct freshness. I sit here, now, absolutely entranced by its glorious melodies, tapping these words between breaks of amazement. Still, this album forces me to listen so closely it’s like pressing against a window into a parallel world.

Personally, I can’t recommend ‘Parades’ enough. And if that’s enough for you, well, you know what to do.

Efterklang – ‘Caravan’



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37
Liars, ‘Drum’s Not Dead’
(2006; Mute)

Liars’ boldest, most outwardly experimental and awkward of accessibility album to date – and their third in total – ‘Drum’s Not Dead’ saw the then-Berlin-based trio take their primal rhythms into new dimensions of intoxicating sound.

Percussion takes a commanding lead, the drums of the piece – which flows as if a singular composition, rather than a randomly ordered sequence of stand-alone songs – rising and falling like an ocean of otherworldly sonics, mathematical graphs strangely bewitching like no science should be. Assorted drones are places beside ethereal vocals, the lyrics of which are detectable through the fog only if you really concentrate; the intention, it seems, is to manifest an atmosphere of alien design – the rock, the roll, but nothing quite like what’s come before.

Polymorphs of the music world, Liars have never recycled an idea in their creative lifetime, and ‘Drum’s Not Dead’ represents the furthest they have ever flown from their early pigeonholing as an NYC art-rock ensemble a la Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Les Savy Fav. By releasing material expressing their love of experimentation, Liars have long since fallen from said sub-genre, instead residing in a micro-niche entirely of their own.

Nobody really makes music like Liars, and sometimes one wonders if Liars really know what music they’re making, so wonderfully detached from reality do they sound at moments on this album. It’s one that rewards patience, investing of time and attention, but once you get it, you’ll find it impossible to pull away from this mightily impressive collection of riveting weirdness.

Liars – ‘The Other Side Of Mt. Heart Attack’



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36
The White Stripes, ‘Get Behind Me Satan’
(2005; XL)

After the colossal global success of 2003’s ‘Elephant’ album, Detroit garage-rock machine The White Stripes were no doubt left exhausted and bewildered. Having existed as a cult commodity for so long, hand-pressing sleeves and touring in the back of a broken down mini-van, emerging as one of the world’s biggest and most respected groups was a difficult change to accept.

In retrospect, ‘Elephant’ feels like the full stop on one aspect of the group’s career – while containing some truly earth-shattering tracks it lacks the carefree experimentation of their earlier work. ‘Elephant’ is a summation of what has gone before, rather than a sign of what was to come.

Raised in a poor part of Detroit, Jack White was surrounded by Hispanic influences from an early age; however, these rarely came out in his music. Withdrawing to the studio to commence work on their new album, The White Stripes focussed on this rich and fertile area of influence to craft what stands as one of their oddest, but most rewarding records to date: ‘Get Behind Me Satan’.

Opener ‘Blue Orchid’ is an indication of what’s to come. Featuring Jack White in full shrieking mode, it sounded like an ‘Elephant’ cut with its guts ripped out. Much of ‘Get Behind Me Satan’ is acoustic – from the marimbas of ‘The Nurse’ to the timpani of ‘Passive Manipulation’. A feminist hymn, the latter track is a salute to American womanhood and a Meg White solo song in all but name. When Jack White does reach for his amplifier, the result is far from the anthems that dominated its predecessor. ‘Instinct Blues’ is a dense, paranoid affair that reeks of the scratchy Delta records that first fired the band, while ‘Take, Take, Take’ is an angry assault on the senses.

Dismissed by some at the time as an ill-thought-through follow up, ‘Get Behind Me Satan’ stands as testament to the versatility and sheer creative energy of The White Stripes. Daringly recorded in a matter of weeks, the group threw away virtually every aspect of their trademark sound to produce something uniquely personal. Just as The White Stripes seemed to be overwhelmed with fame, they fought back with the carefree abandon of a group who were keen not to forget their roots.

Words: Robin Murray

The White Stripes – ‘Blue Orchid’



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35
Hot Chip, ‘The Warning’
(2006; EMI)

‘The Warning’ is, thankfully, one of those albums that you don’t have to talk about as being part of its time. Yes, Hot Chip were picked up early by DFA records, yes they reference Prince and yes, their songs parody hip-hop violence in a way that Flight of the Conchords would be proud off – but frankly I don’t care about that. You could say ‘The Warning’ is quintessentially English – funny, ironic, idiosyncratic, simultaneously bold and self-effacing – and you’d be absolutely right.

But why bother, when this album needs none of that padding to stand out as something completely unique. References aside, ‘The Warning’ is great because it achieves the rare feat of being a knowing and nuanced record but without the short shelf life of any other too-clever-by-half post-modern electro-pop album. This will go on, and on and on…

Case in point: first single, ‘Over and Over’. Everyone under the age of 25 can sing this song word for word, meaning that in another 10-15 years it will be played at weddings up and down the country. ‘Over and Over’’s ubiquity isn’t quite matched by the other big single, ‘Boy From School’, but this tuneful childhood romp is just as good. A lovely, squelchy synth hook bobs along over a hum of glockenspiel. Alexis Taylor’s kitchen sink vocals are at their most effective, summoning the classroom to memory.

Schooldays and angular dance moves performed in brightly coloured clothing is part of the oeuvre but this album also has wallop. Their debut album, ‘Coming On Strong’, was more complex lyrically and full of long sad songs. This starts up with a what-the-fuck-is-that early Prodigy break on ‘Careful’ that kicks like a mule. On the title track, ‘The Warning’, Alexis sings in his quiet, melodic little voice: “Hot Chip will break your legs / snap off your head.” Pardon? Or how about this pleasant little rhyme in ‘Tchaparian’: “I'm looking for a face to attack… / so watch yourself I'll come with a smack”.

Why should this lyrical violence be the sole preserve of wimpish rappers with huge entourages? Why can’t our wimpish, intellectual synth bands get some of that action? On the one hand it’s ironic posturing by white boys, but on the other hand those angular shapes thrown by neon dancefloor losers could do with connecting sometimes with other losers’ faces – let us take note.

Inventive, edgy, ironic but without pretence, this is the music that this generation of 20-somethings will take through to the grave.

Words: Jonny Ensall

Hot Chip – ‘Over and Over’ (live)



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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’

Coming tomorrow: numbers 34 to 31.

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