Album Review: Sampha—“Process”

By Keshav Sharma-Jaitly, Feature Photo via NYLON

Sampha is an artist that has built his entire career on collaborations, from his early work with SBTRKT, to his more recent collaborations with Drake, Solange, and Kanye West. This is what makes the title of his long-awaited debut record, Process, so poignant— it’s taken him awhile to get here.

Process is gorgeous. Sampha uses this album’s 40 minute runtime to poetically muse on topics of life and love. His voice is silky smooth, and unabashedly British, as he carries the project from start to finish almost effortlessly. It seems his years of collaborations have allowed himself to gain a sense of confidence in his voice, especially in his use of falsetto. His soulful performances feel natural, and his voice is always emotive and captivating. The electronically tinged production explores the minutiae of R&B and neo-soul as the instrumentals alternate between piano ballads and tasteful bangers. It manages to be diverse, yet cohesive. It’s all paced masterfully as well, with a propulsive beginning, a mellow middle section, and an energetic ending. “Plastic 100° C” is an excellent opener, as Sampha speaks on feeling lost and introduces topics of lovesickness and fear into this album. He refers to his lover as “my lantern,” a love that is his light, but also the cause of his melting. It’s set over an instrumental inspired by the moon landing, a metaphor for the start of Sampha’s process of finding fame and success on his own while also discovering what he has to leave behind. 

sampha-process

“Process” album cover

Loss is something this record deals heavily in as Sampha tries to cope with the passing of his mother in 2015, as well as his newfound fame. Sampha sings in eloquent, transparent poetry, as he navigates anxiety in “Blood on Me,” or reminisces on a relationship that never was in “Incomplete Kisses.” His songwriting prowess reaches dizzying heights with the ballad “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano,” easily my favourite track on the album. Sampha sings about moving back to his mother’s house to help her with her cancer treatments, and how the piano in her house made him the man he is today. It’s beautifully profound and completely heartbreaking. I can’t imagine I’ll find a song that will have moved me more in 2017.

Everything on Process manages to be so incredibly strong, from the eclectic production to Sampha’s focused songwriting and lyricism. I’ve been waiting for his solo debut since I heard him in 2011, and somehow he has managed to blow my already astronomical expectations out of the water. On the closer, “What Shouldn’t I Be?,” Sampha speaks on leaving his family behind, while also feeling like he can always come home. This manages to be a beautiful catharsis, albeit still shrouded in uncertainty. The album ends with him asking “What shouldn’t I be? It’s not all about me,” as if asking his audience what the next step in the titular Process should be. I can’t wait for him to find his answer.

 

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