Alex Quinne reviews singer/songwriter Sampha. Through a drawn out process, it pays off on his debut LP.
On his highly anticipated debut Process, Sampha offers his own dizzying and beautiful take on modern RnB.
Process is the album that 2017 desperately needed. Though 2017’s first month was filled with a lot of good albums, (Loyle Carner’s, Yesterday’s Gone and William Basinski’s, A Shadow In Time) January didn’t provide an album to truly standout in the packed release schedule. Littered with a whole host of albums which would most likely be forgotten come the end of the year, this is where we enter Sampha Sisay, who’s highly anticipated Process could be the kick start 2017 needed musically.
Process is an assuredly confident debut from Sampha, lyrically taking on the themes of his mother’s passing to cancer, as well as taking an introspective examination of himself to a devastating effect.
On standout track and single, ‘(No one Knows Me) Like The Piano’, Sampha solemnly speaks of his use of music as a way of coping with his mother’s cancer and subsequent death. Mixed with the songs sparse instrumentation and Sampha’s delicate vocals, this song creates a truly heart-breaking and haunting midpoint to the album.
Similarly, the album’s closing track What Shouldn’t I be? finds Sampha at his most introspective, bemoaning the fact that he fails to visit his disabled brother often, and asking the aching question of the track’s title and failing to find an answer to this.
Sampha’s production throughout the album, a joint effort by him and label XL’s in-house engineer Rodaidh McDonald, is sublime. Songs such as Blood On Me create an effective paranoia, enhanced by Sampha’s rushed, almost delirious delivery.
The use of sampling on the opening track Plastic 100°C is of particular note as well, mixing in sounds from moon landings onto its sparse beat, creating an interestingly isolated sound to the track, giving Process a compelling opening. However, the track Kora Sings, I believe, suffers from a bit of overproduction, with its almost chirpy beat not fitting alongside the sparse and dense sounds on offer throughout the rest of the record. Though not necessarily a bad track, it sticks out like a sore thumb amongst Sisay’s other offerings on the album.
For me, Sampha’s vocals throughout the album are a major draw to the album’s appeal, with his vocals expressing his solemn and dark lyrics to great effect. His highly emotive and powerful vocals are what provide the album with its beating heart, expressing an underlying vulnerability within himself.
This is best expressed in the electronic ballad Incomplete Kisses, wherein he croons of the spontaneous nature of love. His vocals, alongside the piano’s heavy almost ‘glitchy’ production, helps create a powerful ode to love itself.
Process is overall a success of an album and an undeniably confident debut by an artist, who not only reached the level of expectations aimed at him, but broke the ceiling of them. Though not every track works in the grand scheme of the album, on the high points such as Plastic 100°C, (No One Knows Me) Like The Piano and Incomplete Kisses, Sampha displays his full mill of talents: lyrically, vocally and as a producer.
Favourite tracks: Plastic 100°C, (No One Knows Me) Like The Piano, Incomplete Kisses.
Least Favourite: Kora Sings.