Part six, with Battles and The Libertines...

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.

Week two, and we’ve broken the top 30. Expect fireworks as we near the magical top ten, not to mention a fair few surprises. Catch up with the Essential 50 by following the links below…


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Battles, ‘Mirrored’
(2007; Warp)

When is prog-rock not prog-rock? When it’s rock from the other side of the furthest galaxy, that’s when. And ‘Mirrored’ delivered the rock like no other band had before on this, Battles’ debut (and, at present, only) album. Hugely alien, absolutely otherworldly, and capable of having the sanest individual lose their shit completely on the dancefloor, it’s a perplexing listen that continues to amaze to this day.

Instrumental throughout – I’m not counting Tyondai Braxton’s indecipherable chirrups, as they serve to complement the cadence of the multi-faceted poly-rhythms around it, as much an instrument as the keys, drums and guitars – ‘Mirrored’ tickled the fancy of a slew of critics upon its release, at no point sitting still enough for a thorough dissection to be carried out; so, reviewers settled for getting into its peculiar flow rather than scratch their scalps clean off through befuddlement at how so very much, so very many constituent pieces, could come together not only neatly, but line up without even the slightest hint of a join.

Take ‘Tonto’, for example – the track begins with a series of entwined chimes, only for an insistent drum beat to come to the fore before guitars twiddle into life and the whole thing explodes like a firework under the back seat of a bus. But while the motifs hypnotise, and the ‘lyrics’ prompt sing-alongs of the most absurd kind, the song’s structure is far from complete, and the two-minute-thirty mark begins a transformation into something else entirely. The beat remains, albeit knocked off centre, but the guitars begin channeling a whole new inspiration, seemingly from the Far East. For its final minute the piece just glides, landing softly without the slightest suggestion it was ever a boisterous, bucking beast of an arrangement.

‘Tij’ sounds like an hour-long performance by the Circus Of Horrors shoved into a vacuum bag and condensed to seven minutes, ‘Leyendecker’ like the Bomb Squad going giggly on laughing gas, and ‘Atlas’ like a cock-rock band having the crap kicked out of them by leather-jacketed flick-knife punks outside a beer-branded arena. Nothing makes sense until it’s seen together, each element finding its place to create a whole that is staggering in its uniqueness, in its unprecedented design. Math-rock? Fuck that. This is MORE-rock, where conventions are adopted and their stakes raised, ‘til once-familiar forms resemble nothing else on this Earth.

But, to rewind: the other side of the furthest galaxy? Sorry, no. Battles hail from New York. Then again, wasn’t it there that the Men In Black kept all those aliens hidden?

Battles – ‘Tonto’

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Klaxons, ‘Myths Of The Near Future’
(2007; Polydor)

Nu-rave – remember that? London foursome Klaxons were charged with leading the ‘scene’, half-jokingly coined by Angular Records founder Joe Daniel. Nu-rave represented the fresh, pulsing fusion of rock and electronic music being made predominately in London at the turn of 2006. Klaxons emerged as the best songwriters in their field and battered their way through press hype and into the hearts of pilled-up student ravers across the UK.

‘Myths of the Near Future’, taking its name from J.G. Ballard’s 1982 short story collection, took in prog, pop and dance influences to create a dystopian future of sex, drugs and more drugs. Songwriter and bassist Jamie Reynolds, who dropped out of a philosophy degree before penning the album, delivered ambiguous lyrics pilfered from the works of Ballard, Aleister Crowley and Thomas Pynchon’s 1973 text ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’. Flanked by the talented and easy-on-the-eye bandmates Simon Taylor-Davies and James Righton, Klaxons turned a vacant genre that started as an in-joke into a minor youth subculture.

Klaxons delivered a strong, diverse debut record. Opener ‘Two Receivers’ sets the tone with War of the Worlds lyrical imagery, psychedelic guitar flourishes and smiley electronic beats, while nu-rave anthem ‘Atlantis to Interzone’ reinterprets William Burroughs through ketamine-induced madness. The similarly drugged ‘Totem on the Timeline’ details being tripped out whilst on an 18-30 holiday, and ‘As Below, So Below’ nods to late ‘90s indie-freaks Mansun.

Towards the end of the album, the fuzzy ‘Forgotten Works’ is an understated highlight, while ‘Magick’ combines gothic weirdness with thrilling guitar work; their cover of ‘It’s Not Over Yet’, meanwhile, is a supreme re-imagining for the Music 2:0 generation. ‘Golden Skans’ proved that when Klaxons dropped the strangeness they were a dab hand at writing genre-defining pop music. Recorded alongside producer of the moment James Ford, ‘Myths…’ was only kept off the top of the UK charts by Norah Jones’ latest, and within a year they’d performed a marvellous, genre-swapping duet with Rihanna at the Brit awards. Oh, and they won that small thing called the Mercury Prize.

‘Myths of the Near Future’ is a genuinely schizophrenic journey into the futuristic minds of four young males. Importantly, it gave a much-needed kick up the arse to mainstream indie music. Leather jacketed rock clichés were kicked out; glow-sticks and great tunes blazed in. Thank you, Klaxons.

Words: Alistair Beech

Klaxons – ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’

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Tunng, ‘Mother’s Daughter And Other Songs’
(2005; Static Caravan)

Folktronica? Future Folk? Folkno? String-step? Journalists are rum bastards sometimes. These terms even annoy Clash, and we made one of them up. By 2005 the likes of Fourtet, Caribou, Adem and the likes of pastoral digi-folksters Tunng burst into our iPods with a shower of melodic and honest breaks as flower petals and the teasing smell of scrumpy were conjured in our minds.

Back then Tunng were comprised of Mike Lindsay and Sam Genders, a rocker and a raver who met whilst scoring scores for soft porn. Soon the croon of Genders, a lo-fi and candid voice, was bobbing over simply plucked strings of Lindsay. “Big wow!” I hear you say. Yet once they unleashed the gentle rule of their laptops beneath their naked and unaffected collaboration it sprang into a life that sounds like Vashti Bunyan having the orgy of her life with a drunken and bawdy Kraftwerk. Despite even the challenge here in imagination.

Quirky samples littered their path into our hearts; fattened bass, squelchy wanders into unexplored fields and a pace and nuance that often mimicked that of dance music made them instant Clash favourites. Strong parallels with The Books were made on its release through their joint use of spoken word samples from Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso reading from their poetry in ‘Out the Window with the Window’. But it was their abrupt treatment of these stolen words that made them a unique proposition, as they deployed them starkly before delving into the sweetest and most innocent guitar or banjo jigs. Such juxtaposition is inescapable for attention, and they seduce us merely bars later with such a perfect fusion of electronic and acoustic that often even the keenest attempted deconstruction flounders like a dairy farmer spiked with ketamine during a dawn Monday milking.

The band was expanded to play live, with Becky Jacobs and Ashley Bates singing merrily alongside Martin Smith and Phil Winter playing a barrage of antiquated instruments. Now facing their third album, Tunng are a live staple to enjoy in venue or in field. Their dusty, disorientating and sepia-tinged ballads sit at the perfect junction between drunken soul-sung nights of tradition and the road to disembodied and faceless electronic music, bouncing around the urban barricades during the change. Musical scribes can often be told to folk off with their litany of frivolous descriptions, yet this music will endure much longer than that of any whimsical literary niche. We now just call it ‘fucking tremendous’.

Words: Matthew Bennett

Tunng – ‘Tale From Black’ (live)

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The Libertines, ‘The Libertines’
(2004; Rough Trade)

Capturing the raucous embodiment of punk with the sophistication of a degree in English literature, The Libertines would go on to shape and influence a million guitar bands that came after them.

In Doherty and Barat, Britain had found a songwriting duo that, for some, will be spoken of with the same reverence as Morrissey/Marr, Strummer/Jones, Jagger/Richards and maybe even Lennon/ McCartney.

On this, their second and final album, the jury is out on whether it surpassed the hype and conviction their debut ‘Up The Bracket’ had, but regardless: it solidified The Libertines’ place as one of the greatest bands the 21st Century has seen so far.

From the rapturous ‘Narcissist’ and ‘The Saga’ to the tender, softer ‘Music When The Lights Go Out’ and the anthemic ‘What Become Of The Likely Lads’ and ‘Can‘t Stand Me Now’, the album displays more depth of talent than their debut album did.

On record the band were creating career-defining moments, but behind the scenes a life lived to excess was destroying the band. By the time album opener ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ was released as a single, the alchemistic amalgamation Pete and Carl had was fractured and seemingly irreconcilable.

There was only so far their Arcadian dreams could bandage their tempestuous relationship, and with multiple failed rehab visits, trouble with the police and the problems that arise from living your life in the tabloids brings, it came as no surprise when the band split in December 2004.

Doherty went on to form Babyshambles, spent time in Pentonville prison and has just released his first solo album. As for Carl, things never quite came through with Dirty Pretty Things – although they retained drummer Gary Powel and guitarist Anthony Rossomando, the spark The Libertines had was gone and the band split in October 2008.

As for the future of The Libertines, a reunion seems more likely as Pete and Carl somewhat publicly build bridges and repair their relationship. Who knows if they’ll be able to rekindle the chemistry they had, but if they can create music at the level they did on ‘The Libertines’ then surely they’ll start where they left off in 2004.

Words: Adam Adshead

The Libertines – ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’

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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’

Coming tomorrow: numbers 26 to 23.

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