From his extensive collaborations with SBTRKT to his breakthrough moment on Drake’s “Too Much”, Sampha has spent years working to prove that uniqueness and true musicianship are still valuable assets in the music industry. With his debut album “Process”, the British singer, songwriter and producer solidifies his point with an effort that feels as much like an extended diary entry as it does an LP.
Nobody sings quite like Sampha does. The character of his voice is instantly recognizable, occasionally goofy, and almost always interesting. This is apparent from the jump, as the extended, outer-space tinted metaphors of the opening track, “Plastic 100°C”, conjure up vulnerable images of Sampha melting like plastic under the heat of a symbolic sun. Poetic, sometimes elegiac lyrics are deeply wound throughout not only this song, but a healthy majority of the album. Lines like, “Sunshine and blue skies, yes I call. But now there’s a darker blue. I’m bleeding and you don’t care. The sun sinks and you’re not there” read like prose lost to time in a drawer of Shakespeare’s most insecure work.
On “Process”, Sampha brings forth some astonishing lyrics, but doesn’t always realize his full potential in bringing them from words on a page to vibrations in the air.
Simple, honest, and mournful, “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano” caught a lot of ears and garnered a lot of praise as the last single leading up to “Process”, and it proves to be one of the best examples of sonic storytelling on the album. Along with “Take Me Inside”, another mournful piano ballad, it seems to represent a wealth of untapped potential that Sampha misses out on through this project. In so many ways, songs like these are his natural habitat. They’re gorgeously stripped-down and transparent, showing off his ridiculously rare and distinct brand of piano playing, while complimenting his equally distinct singing in a way that frames his lyrics in the most favorable way. While interesting, the complex and sometimes convoluted electronic-flavored production that underlies a lion’s share of the album often sullies the stories being told, and highlights the wrong aspects of Sampha’s vocals – especially on tracks like “Kora Sings”, “Under”, and “Incomplete Kisses”.
What’s remains apparent on “Process”, though, is the sense that Sampha expressed himself exactly how he saw fit; and I can’t fault him for that. With talent and tendencies as exotic as his, there are bound to be some moments of dissonance and moments of greatness alike. And “Process” is just that: a collection of moments, good and bad, synthesized from those thousands of moments in Sampha’s own life that we never get to see – only hear about.