Diving deeper in the brilliant, emotional debut album from Sampha - Process
The once-revered sidekick goes the distance himself with an outstanding 10 tracker.
Sampha Sisay, hailing from the heart of South London, was once a serious sidekick in music. As of February 3rd however that title no longer applies with the release of his inaugural LP, Process, via Young Turks.
With a curriculum vitae which already reads collaborations with the likes of Kanye West, Drake, SBTRKT and Solange, it’s clear this fellow has one hell of a reputation!
My first experience (and I imagine many others) of Sampha came with his outstanding features and co-writes on SBTRKT’s debut album back in 2011. Tracks like Hold On, Trials Of The Past and Sanctuary are forever etched in my mind. Never had I heard such a voice with the ability to convey believable emotion on what was then coined quirky electronica.
Now some six years later, Sampha steps into the limelight as a lead singer, delivering a diverse and delicate record. Tracks traverse a span of genres; glittery electronic production to soulful R&B melodies, to lamenting tales. A differing roadmap that’s a very enjoyable drive.
The album opens with Plastic 100°C, an impactful work, dominated by entrancing harp notes and lagged drumbeats. A space theme runs throughout as Sampha litters the verses with vocal cuts of astronaut radio chatter. “Houston can you hear me now!” he cries. I mean I’ve always dreamt of floating in the infiniteness above Earth and this piece takes you fairly close.
Following on, we’re thrust into the frenetic almost frightened tune that is Blood On Me. Released back in September of last year the single has already racked up millions of plays on Spotify and with good reason. Throughout Blood On Me you feel as if there’s someone breathing down your neck and you best get away quick.
Sampha stirs an atmosphere of urgency with drum-breaks and clever use of cowbell.
The lyrics themselves point to the fact that he’s in strife, “I’m on the edge now/I nearly lose my grip”. This is a welcome change to the usual calmness of his tracks, as here we get a sense of fragility.
I’d be a fool to not mention (No One Knows Me) Like The Piano. A beautifully honest piece that really moves you. Sampha delivers an ode to his beginnings, his family and the instrument in his childhood home that inspired his now illustrious career. There was never any doubt of Sampha’s raw talent, this one simply solidifies it.
Under & Reverse Faults at tracks six and seven respectively seem an homage to previous efforts with Aaron Jerome (SBTRKT). Both feature growning synth sections, dark bass lines and almost trap sounding beds, which immediately casts my mind back to that famous tribal masked album artwork from 2011. I’m glad Sampha still recognises how well suited his voice is to such arrangements.
The second last offering, Incomplete Kisses is a big slice of feeling. A song for the broken-hearted, a tale of relationships eroded through those missed opportunities to show the one you love how you actually feel about them. As Sampha chants “wait too long you’ll miss it/don’t let your heart hide those stories”. This is one of my favourites from the release due to its candor, a touching and straightforward message for listeners.
Rounding out Process is What Shouldn’t I Be? A suitable finish to an album based on bonds and how they suffer under the elements of time and chance.
Sisay sings a lot about distance from his family - “I’ve lost connections I know/It’s not all about me!” - in particular his brother who he hasn’t seen in months. The musical bed on this final has a lullaby vibe, stripped bare allowing Sampha’s choral prowess to soar.
When you listen to Process, be sure to tune your ears to the lyricism. Of course Sampha has one of the most amazing voices in the industry yet the added brilliance lies in his prose.