Slept-On: 2022’s Most Underrated Albums

These under-the-radar projects deserve to be heard...

So much music. At Clash, we consume a lot, and inevitably, our tastes and personal favourites vary.

Clash’s ethos is rooted in discovery, in unearthing obscure releases and hidden gems that get overshadowed in an age of algorithmic excess and over-consumption. This list of Slept-On albums is a mere snapshot of (mostly independent) releases that provided an auditory balm for the team this year.

From Nadeem Din-Gabisi‘s spoken-word special ‘POOL’, to Naima Bock‘s pastoral dream ‘Giant Palm’ and DoomCannon‘s virtuosity on debut album ‘Renaissance’, we also acknowledged releases beyond the typical “album” format; you’ll find a host of extended plays and mixtapes reflecting the permeable nature of experiencing new music in the streaming era.

Naima Bock – Giant Palm

Naima Bock’s ‘Giant Palm’ is – frankly – exquisite. A lush, sonically gorgeous experience, it’s also blessed with incisive instincts, the SE London artist’s lyrical bent both revealing and mysterious in its execution. A record driven forwards by a rare sense of world-building, ‘Giant Palm’ is informed by Naima’s youth in Brazil, a radiant light often shrouding the record’s high points. Yet it’s also a project that revels in the finer details; referencing her studies in archaeology, her interests in gardening, and allowing the pace of her life to slow through lengthy walks. A truly special listen. Robin Murray

DoomCannon – Renaissance

London’s current glut of jazz innovation has resulted in a slew of records, some of which have scaled the heights – nationwide tours, Mercury nominations – while others have been obscured by the gold rush. DoomCannon’s debut album deserves to rise above the competition through its strength of character, through the staunch desire of central figure Dominic Canning to assert personal freedoms through aesthetic choices.

Expansive work such as ‘Entrance To The Unknown’ and ‘Uncovering The Truth’ carry a spiritual quality, the communal improvisation helmed by the gravitational pull of DoomCannon’s own creativity. Yet it’s not all wild, freewheeling jazz abstraction; the emotional pull of closer ‘Black Liberation’ is emphatic, and truly moving. Robin Murray

Mejiwahn – Beanna

Transportive and gently lulling, ‘Beanna’ by Oakland producer Mejiwahn is a reverie of muted instrumentals and vignettes that unwind in serpentine strokes. ‘Beanna’ charts Mejiwahn’s roving experiences producing the album: he escaped from the clouds of wildfire smoke covering California in 2020, decamping to Montana, where he spent a week recording in a yurt. That sense of ephemeral escapism seeps into the Liv.e-assisted highlight ‘Heart String Special’, a misty-eyed two-parter merging jazzy riffs and woodwind cinematics. The producer deftly captures wisps of time and memory on songs like ‘Luna’, where the faint whisper of birdcalls leads to a 70s-inspired celestial trip. ‘Beanna’ is easy listening exotica executed right. Shahzaib Hussain

India Shawn – Before We Go (Deeper)

A breezy simplicity courses through India Shawn’s debut ‘Before We Go (Deeper)’, which rejoices in the journey of self-love as the foundation for mutually beneficial relationships. Largely produced with D’Mile – the chief architect of Silk Sonic’s vintage soul – the album coheres around dreamy and dusky live instrumentation, retaining the sheen of 70s RnB without losing its identity to retro pastiche.  

Shawn soothes and stirs her way across the roadmap of yearning and receiving: ‘Exchange’ is a winding ballad, showcasing Shawn’s trained melisma, furling and unfurling like syncopated lovers; ‘Cali Love’ is a distant, aching ode to moving on – using the sunny and sinful backdrop of California to survey clichés around self-determination and self-worth. ‘Before We Go’ is a quiet triumph, defined by its sophisticated chronicles of soft-focus romance and sex, of languid grooves and intricately-designed mood music. Shahzaib Hussain

Nadeem Din-Gabisi – POOL

Nadeem Din-Gabisi is a spoken-word savant on debut album, ‘POOL’, bridging urban grit with freeform jazz and airy highlife lilts. The British/Sierra-Leonean rapper and poet uses the allegory of water to reconcile past trauma with the communal and contemporary suffering of young black men. Water’s potential to submerge matter, drown away sins and nourish life, weaves its way through each of the album’s twelve tracks. Din-Gabisi calls on friends and fellow musicians Coby Sey and MettaShiba to add character and texture to these trenchant cradle songs; there is light but also a dark undertow of loss and erosion. The result is a survivor’s tale that comforts and cajoles the listener. Experience ‘POOL’ for spiritual cleansing. Shahzaib Hussain

Obongjayar – Some Nights I Dream Of Doors

Obongjayar has long been a core part of the UK jazz and afro-swing contingent. His songs document his origin story in Nigeria’s Cross River State and his adulthood spent languishing on the concrete pavements of London and Norwich. His long-gestating debut, ‘Some Nights I Dream of Doors’, is an amalgam of jazz, neo-soul and psychedelia; swirling synths and hypnotic drum patterns the base to his feathery falsetto. At its most pure and stripped back is ‘Parasite,’ an anthem for the disenfranchised. Imbued with autobiographical detail, Umoh propels his striking voice across the hook. On the flip-side, tracks like ‘Message In A Hammer’ are infectious and propulsive: the track a shiny emblem of self-worth. “I have seen the future, In the future we won, We have been reborn…” Ana Lamond

Dean Blunt – Freestyles (SS22)

Dean Blunt is an enigma. Be it his mercurial work on debut ‘Babyfather’, or his live project with Inga Copeland, one can never quite figure out the artist’s underlying motivations. Is he being ironic? Is he speaking a metaphoric truth into existence? Is it simply art for art’s sake?

Dean Blunt maintains a sense of duplicity on ‘Freestyles (SS22)’. It commences with plucking organs, making way for a meandering baritone across ‘reasons_seazons freestyle’. Equally, ‘MORT freestyle’ captures after-hours mystery, stood in a car park sporting his iconic uniform: black sunglasses, black hoodie, and black leather jacket. It’s a menacing stream of consciousness that prods away at the potential of a love interest. The following tracks are doused in self-pity; on ‘pj harvey cover’ Blunt mumbles the lines ‘don’t you wish you’d never met her’ and ‘SLUDGE freestyle’ is a mellow conclusion exploring distance and escape. The less Blunt says, the closer we get to his truth. Ana Lamond

Blade Brown, K-Trap – Joints

Blade Brown and K-Trap undoubtedly delivered one of the more unapologetically raw yet refined UK rap projects this year, a genre that warrants a blast of new energy. Both occupying the upper echelons in drill and trap, with their own generational differences, the highly-anticipated project sets the pace with blazing bars and slick hard-hitters. ‘6 Figures’ sees the two tag-teaming on a hook full of braggadocios and unfiltered grit. Devoid of throwaway guest appearances, the duo rely solely on one another’s synergy and trademark flows. Also noteworthy is the menacing production from Splurgeboys, Nyge, M1OnTheBeat and even Skepta. Flaunting punchy keys, a nauseating bass and Brown’s mocking verse on ‘Xtra Time,’ it’s a formula for elevated car-seat bangers. ‘Joints’ is an unrelenting experience. Ana Lamond

Surya Sen – At What Cost

Surya Sen’s thirteen-track mixtape tells the story of a post-lockdown night out with his circle of friends (Bone Slim, Fela.Mi, Di-Vincent), charting the euphoria and the comedown. . Citing golden-age hip-hop sample culture as a source of inspiration, Sen also mines his own heritage as a second-generation Bengali musician.

Standout moments include ‘Jessica’, a house number grounded by Sen’s role-playing as as a dancefloor interlocutor. If double vision could manifest in a song it would be ‘Slidin’, home to a seething bassline and wavy percussion; the soundtrack to out-of-body disassociation. ‘Earn It’ is a statement on the relentless hard-graft of London life; the high-energy soundscape and scratching riffs are reminiscent of some of the best elements of mid-2000s British indie (if they were made into a house remix). Definitely an album to stack on at a house party. Naima Sutton

Cookin Soul, Lord Apex – Off The Strength

Grammy award-winning hip hop DJ/producer Cookin Soul and rapper Lord Apex, arguably one of London’s finest rap gems, joined forces to produce a fleeting project merging fine-tuned lyricism against a timeless boom-bap production style, creating a nostalgic detour through lofi hip-hop.

With snippets of vintage cartoon and TV show samples ensconced within, a conceptual narrative takes place in every song. From the moving soul sample on ‘Stay Alive’, to Lord Apex barking “wagwan big dog” over the top of hazy synths on ‘Wagwan Dog’, each track is it’s own contained universe. ‘For All My Hustlers’ renders images of a hustler refusing to compromise his vision, Lord Apex’s delivery, uplifting and warm – the very same flow he taps into on ‘Euphoria’, conjuring all the energy of a mellow high on a Saturday morning. Naima Sutton

MINIKINGZ – ICONICY

‘ICONICY’ is a mixtape crafted by a buzzy collective made up of three iconic members, BenjiFlow, Ragz Originale and Oscar #Worldpeace: together they are MiniKingz. The London trio collaborated back in 2017 with ‘Clean’ and honour that initial spark on this 10-track project. Drawing in features from Knucks, Nippa, Bawo and more, the trio combine elements of R&B, grime, rap and a garage-infused sound to create a woozy take that sits somewhere on the environs of UK rap.

‘NEW SKIN CARE’, is one of the strongest tracks on ‘ICONICY’, replete with a thumping beat and crisp bars provided by each member. ‘ICED OUT SUMMER’ serves just that on a rumbling drum beat; summer vibes and waist-moving tempos accompanied by a playful hook from Oscar #Worldpeace; ‘SONG 1’ is all delicate piano tones and muddy bars, combining to build a hazy soundscape. With ‘ICONICY’, MiniKingz serve up a nocturnal collaborative album that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Naima Sutton

Jordy – KMT

Jordy’s six-track EP ‘KMT’ was teased with a few pre-release singles, ‘ENEMIES’ and ‘PEAK!’ From his own perspective, ‘KMT’ is intended to be a rap-heavy continuation of his debut EP, ‘SMH’. The Essex rapper achieves precisely this, weaving together rap and trap influences, zoned-in rhymes and a nod to Jamaican dancehall.

‘ENEMIES’ is a must-listen, the pitched-up backing and earworm melody increasing its replay value. ‘FORTY ACRES’ sees Jordy take inspiration from Jamaica as he layers patois over the end of the track, similarly ‘SPECIAL’ plays with lyrics that reinterpret parts of Mavado’s dancehall anthem ‘So Special’. Jordy is a versatile artist, something this EP does with malleable ease. Naima Sutton

Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard – Backhand Deals

“Like a poor old cow / Has to graze all day / Just to stay alive but ends up slaughtered anyway”, the opening line on ‘New Age Millennial Magic’ setting the tone for Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard’s ‘Backhand Deals’; a nostalgic reinvention of 70s glam rock with Welsh influences, making for a uniquely gripping sound. From the commentary on capitalist consumption in ‘New Age Millennial Magic’, to the real-life politics of Cardiff in ‘Crescent Man Vs Demolition Dan’, ‘Backhand Deals’ is a cyclone of anti-bureaucratic rhetoric, neatly packaged in a 70s pop-rock recyclable paper bag.

Laconic songs leak crisp production courtesy of frontman-come-songwriter Tom Rees, utilising a tongue-in-cheek lilt reminiscent of rock greats Queen and Steely Dan. Further standouts from the album include the jaunty piano of ‘Faking a Living’, and a guitar-led ditty about the ethics of shoplifting, encouraging listeners to ‘Break Right In’. Buzzard x 3 are very good at condensing all the modern millennial tears and fears into polished tidbits of jangly guitar and slapback delay. Gem Stokes

Blackhaine – Armour II

Blackhaine’s ‘Armour II’ is a rendezvous point for icy spoken word, ambient trips and industrial-drill production. Also known as Tom Heyes, Blackhaine’s music is a vivid projection of self, excavating his Lancashire roots to replant his experiences into full-bodied songs. ‘Armour II’ foregrounds the working class experience in Northern England, exploring the rage, guilt and grief of Heyes’ past. The project opens in the depths of Blackhaine’s mind with ‘Stained Materials’; the swelling synths and thrumming bassline a template peppered throughout the EP.

Anxiety, tension, and vulnerability are keywords for ‘Armour II’. This is true of track 5 ‘Armour Freestyle’ featuring Moseley, where a heavy beat labours against moments of quiet calm. Softness is also found in ‘Pavements’ featuring the EP’s main producer Rainy Miller, where glitching full-bodied piano and clipped vocal samples are thick with accent and emotion. Despite the massive names featured on the project – Blood Orange and Iceboy Violet to name a few – ‘Armour II’ is sustained by Heyes’ deft hand. Blackhaine brings forth his personal narrative and vanguard sound to disrupt the sterile palate of the UK’s music scene. Gem Stokes

S Carey – Break Me Open

S Carey is perhaps best known as the supporting vocalist and drummer of Bon Iver, touring the world as Justin Vernon’s talented indie-folk accompaniment. Carey has retained Vernon’s delicate melodies and ambient sensibilities, painting an atmosphere of wilderness and tenderness in his most recent release, ‘Break Me Open’. The album was born from difficult experiences, including a collapsing marriage and the loss of a parent, all amongst the socio-political chaos of the last few bitter years. Carey equipped with a variety of organic and electronic instrumentation, created a stark expression of grief and metamorphosis.

‘Dark’ is a poignant ode to Carey’s children; a pulsating inquiry into imagined loss. Visualising the future is a common feature of ‘Break Me Open’, also present on tracks like ‘Island’ and ‘Paralyzed’. Although Carey seems to suffer from anxiety about his future, his silken instrumentation provides a sense of comfort and catharsis for listeners. The meeting place of strings and synths, ‘Break Me Open’ also has its brighter moments, like on ‘Sunshower’. Peals of balmy guitar are woven amongst harmonies and textured bursts of instrumentation, as jazz influences scuffle for elbow room. S Carey’s ‘Break Me Open’ is a thematically dark but sonically light experience, solidifying the multi-instrumentalist as an independent force to be reckoned with. Gem Stokes

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