This is getting serious…

Clash was born in 2004. To celebrate our 10th anniversary, and imminent 100th issue, we’re counting down the top 100 albums that pretty much everything we do is based on. These are our favourites since we’ve been in the game – and they’re all celebrated players.

Previous entries:

100-91
90-81
80-71
70-61
60-51
50-41
40-31
30-21

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20
Sufjan Stevens – ‘Illinoise’
(2005, Asthmatic Kitty/Rough Trade)

A deep and detailed work, rife with rural mystery and urban legend, ‘Illinoise’ is the kind of multifaceted experience that no number of years can dull the shine from. Play this set today and it continues to sparkle like few LPs of its era, which inevitably date as their processes and persuasions fall victim to trend expiration. Stevens’ fourth studio set, and his second to draw its inspiration exclusively (enough) from the history and lore of a single US state, coming after 2003’s ‘Michigan’, this is a fabulously eccentric collection, by turns bracingly testing and uncommonly touching. Folk infused and pop savvy, Stevens’ music is accessible throughout, even when tackling such disparate themes as Christianity and serial killers. Mike Diver

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19
Burial – ‘Untrue’
(2007, Hyperdub)

When the second studio album by the then-unidentified Burial arrived, it cemented the notion that music truly can speak for itself, while really putting Hyperdub on the map. Yet it was Will Bevan’s use of vocals that provided the most intrigue on ‘Untrue’ – voices drowned down shuffling, breakbeat-lined whirlpools, switched gender in a millisecond, ebbed and flowed like ghostly entities. And as a result, 2-step / UKG – two of the usually more vibrant, joyful genres – became as haunted as Bevan’s vision of South London. Felicity Martin

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

A deep-bass solo project for one Kevin Martin, ex of Techno Animal and Ice, The Bug always promised to be a monster – and come ‘London Zoo’, Martin truly devastated listening gear with a set that refused to bow to fashion or compromise even a second of its overall vision. Critical acclaim came quickly, but this is no easy listen – crushing grime, dub and dancehall constituents in the mucky palm of his hand and spit-balling the resulting mash into speaker cones the size of shopping trolleys, Martin’s bombastic breakdown of the English capital’s filthiest corners is a beguiling but always confrontational experience. Mike Diver

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17
Kanye West – ‘The College Dropout’
(2004, Def Jam)

The starting point of a solo career that’s encompassed so many tangents that I’m not sure any of us know who the real Kanye West is anymore – he’s as much a character as he is a man these days. But on ‘The College Dropout’ West makes clear as day his amazing potential – not only as producer but as an accomplished MC, too. Several years in the making, it’s a gangsta-smashing debut that deserves its legendary status – both for what it meant to its maker and hip-hop as a whole, as it provided a hugely inspirational, intellectual shot in the arm for the genre, forming a foundation which other rappers have been building from ever since. Mike Diver

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16
Kings Of Leon – ‘Aha Shake Heartbreak’
(2004, RCA)

Exalted to indie royalty status in the UK in the wake of their debut, the Followills’ developing life experiences fed directly into their second album, which mirrored their augmented visions in songs less raw and more expansive than their predecessors. The stadiums were still a couple of years away, but the roots of their ambitions beyond Southern boogie rock lie in the breadth and effortless opulence of ‘Aha Shake Heartbreak’, where the likes of ‘Milk’, ‘Day Old Blues’ and ‘Rememo’ suggested a graceful depth that would imminently emerge. Simon Harper

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15
Death Grips – ‘The Money Store’
(2012, Epic)

Cali’s hip-hop outcasts pumped high-octane energy into the scene in 2012, f*cking shit up with their first studio album following mixtape ‘Exmilitary’. The major label money hadn't managed to quell their flames; in fact, it was the opposite ‘The Money Store’ delivered an electric shock to the system, shaking things up via scuzzy, blood-drawing production tipped by MC Ride’s stuttered, flame-tinged delivery. Maximalist and scathingly industrial, its nihilistic spirit eschewed rap’s materialism and confronted the consumer-led West, all while soaked in a dark irony and birthing (in the Apple store, presumably) a genre that nobody could really place. Felicity Martin

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14
The Streets – ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’
(2004, Locked On/679)

Mike Skinner’s second (The) Streets set stands up as both a most striking release of its time, and one which has stood up to the test of time remarkably well – simply because nobody’s ever gone about emulating The Streets in any successful fashion. Ignore the ‘rap opera’ selling point and just dive into a murky world of missing money, bad clubbing and broken hearts. ‘Fit But You Know It’ might have rankled some sensitive sorts back when, but it’s a fun romp heard today, and ‘Dry Your Eyes’ is some of the best bruised songwriting, matter-of-fact but arrestingly sincere, anyone’s committed to tape this side of 2000. Mike Diver

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13
Flying Lotus – ‘Los Angeles’
(2008, Warp)

Bettered? Maybe. Essential? Absolutely. ‘Los Angeles’ mightn’t be everyone’s go-to when it comes to the jazz-licked interstellar soundscapes of its titular city’s favourite electronic son, but to deny this album’s influence is to be blinkered to a wealth of experimental beats to have come to life since its release. You’ll likely pop your collarbone trying to keep up with it on the floor, but this is dance music – intoxicating escapism of both the mental and physical variety, and positively revolutionary of scope and style. With each squelch, it starts a fire. Mike Diver

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12
J Dilla – ‘Donuts’
(2006, Stones Throw)

‘Donuts’ is the album that would be both Dilla’s parting gift to a ever-growing (to this day) fanbase and the array of artists who sought to utilise his talents on their own releases: a number of ‘Donuts’ tracks have been used on songs by other rappers, such as DOOM and Ghostface Killah. Dilla worked on the record while in hospital, where he was regularly visited by his mother; she saw ‘Donuts’ slowly come together, and has often spoken to journalists about the experience. “He tried to go over each beat and make sure that it was something different and make sure that there was nothing that he wanted to change,” she told The Fader at the end of 2006, and one listen to the finished product reveals that Dilla did indeed craft something unique on each and every one of these 31 tracks. (Edited from this Clash Essential 50 article.)

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11
Amy Winehouse – ‘Back To Black’
(2006, Island)

What more could we add to the millions of column inches dedicated not only to the amazing success of this album – five Grammy wins, an Ivor Novello for the single ‘Rehab’, number one in the UK and across Europe, 11 million copies sold – but also the soap opera life and times of its maker, a Londoner with a voice to stop traffic? Nothing at all. It’s all out there; it’s all been said. But ignore, please, the tabloid shit-stirring, the titillating gossip that stuck so easily to this seemingly always bruised, now sadly missed songwriter. Instead, slip ‘Back To Black’ on and remind yourself of how she became a household name in the first place. (Edited from this Clash Essential 50 article.)

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Previous entries:

100-91
90-81
80-71
70-61
60-51
50-41
40-31
30-21

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