Since it was released last year, Sampha’s debut album Process has earned classic status. It’s easy to see why. The London-based performer cut his teeth collaborating with artists like Drake, Kanye West and Jessie Ware, some of the biggest names in their respective genres. For an artist who started producing in his bedroom, Process is the sound of an artist completely comfortable with his sound on what is essentially his first shot on major platform.
“Plastic 100°C” starts the album with Neil Armstrong talking to mission control after the first moon landing. It’s a pastiche of synth strings and crisp drum machines. Sampha’s voice nestles on top of these, becoming one with the song’s atmospherics. For all of the electronic sounds, it the song feels strangely organic and acts as an excellent template for what’s to come.
What’s next is “Blood On Me,” It’s the album’s galvanic first single – background choral vocals that indicate anxiety – the slowly building beat embodies the feeling of being chased - Sampha sings: “I swear they smell the blood on me/I hear them coming for me”. It’s a mini-suite that sort of feels like “Thriller” – sort of spooky but also pushing the envelope forward. Listening to it – there’s not a lot going on musically, just the vocal elements, synths, drums and the occasional keyboard/synth horn sound. Having that ability to create an environment in each song is one of Sampha’s strong suits, but it’s not all of what he can do. It’s a song that sums up the thesis of the album: knowing yourself.
“No One Knows Me (Like The Piano)” pretty much turns all of what you heard through the course of Process by parking the breakout piano ballad near the album’s midpoint. Here, Sampha’s voice sounds just as limber as of Donny Hathaway. The sweet, stripped down sound feels so intensely vulnerable, it’s almost as if you think you shouldn’t be listening to it. It’s simply gorgeous. The following son, “Take Me Inside” follows a similar template but explodes into something grander by the song’s bridge.
Process has so many cool little moments that it commands repeated listens. For example, there is “Timmy’s Prayer,” sampling the Timmy Thomas version of “The Coldest Days of My Life”. It pulls the sparkly sounds of 80’s R&B forward into the present. He blends slick vocals and gated drums with ease, keeping a slippery loop lodged in the middle of the mix. It’s almost if you hadn’t listened more than a few times, you wouldn’t know it was there. But it is. these are everywhere. It’s no wonder why he’s been such an in-demand collaborator. Sampha creates things that we don’t know we wanted to hear. Process is an excellent debut. Trust that it will only lead to more provocative, exciting music from an artist who is only giving a small taste of his talent.
- Brendan Hilliard, Obviate Media
This review was written by Brendan Hilliard, of Obviate Media. Obviate Media is a Chicago-based blog covering music and pop culture. Check them out, here: Obviate Media.