Genre: Electronic/Alternative R&B
Producer: Sampha, Rodaidh McDonald
Release Date: February 3, 2017
Sampha has made his audience wait for him in a way that makes the usual start-of-the-gig stalling of Axl Rose look like a burger joint cashier during rush hour in comparison: for over half a decade the English singer-songwriter and producer has gathered buzz by appearing on tracks by the likes of Kanye West, Drake, Jessie Ware and Frank Ocean, alongside with his regular collaborations with the electronic project SBTRKT, teasing his listeners with only small bits of solo material. Now, seven years after his debut EP, Sampha releases his first full-length album Process.
Compared to the unfinished bare-bones instrumentation and production of his previous EPs, Process is clearly a well thought-out, fully finished product. Sampha’s James Blake -esque, wavering and passionate vocals are accompanied mostly by electronic, synthetic loops and processed bleeps, sprinkled with occasional live drum tracks. “Kora Sings” features galloping beats, percussive drumming and sharp synth spikes; “Under” builds an eerie atmosphere with uncommon snare hits and an ice-cold keyboard played in shrill minor key; “Timmy’s Prayer” starts out as swinging spiritual pastiche and two thirds in turns into an increasingly busy and layered electronic track, growing to a triumphant finale. However, to balance out the overabundance of extravagant electronics the album features a couple of stripped-back tracks where Sampha is backed solely by pristine piano. These types of tracks can easily become boring filler by anyone lesser than Billy Joel, but Sampha shows that he has what it takes to pull it off: “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”, a heartfelt confessional dedicated the his mother, is one of the high points on the album.
Despite the instrumental variation in sound the album never feels unfocused or incoherent. This is mostly because of the unified, overarching mood of the album, located in the Venn diagram where ‘Sad’ and ‘Heartbroken’ overlap. Another helping factor is that Process was produced in collaboration with Rodaidh McDonald, who has had a hand in the production of the entire discography of The xx. That can be heard during the quieter moments and slower tracks of the album, but only in a good way, utilizing the lush keyboards and production while never falling to the comatose-level of inactivity associated with xx, even on the slower tracks like “Plastic 100°C” and “Incomplete Kisses”.
Despite some of the less flashy tracks kind of melting into the whole, Process is an incredibly well-written, well-produced and well-performed debut album, and one of the best albums I’ve listened to so far this year. It might have taken Sampha seven years to make this album happen, but it had been well worth the wait.