Sampha, a British singer and producer, has made a name for himself over the years with his features. He has provided his unique voice for the likes of Drake, SBTRKT, Jessie Ware, and Solange among others over the years and has released two previous extended plays. As an artist, Sampha fits a style comparable with a couple ‘alt-R&B’ artists such as FKA twigs, Solange, or James Blake. With Process, Sampha has delivered a debut that took years to develop, but the time it took for the singer to truly introduce himself to the world was well worth the wait. Featuring a concise ten track length, the singer shows strong consideration for the runtime and treats fans to a record devoid of filler.
Opener “Plastic 100°C” takes its time to introduce the listener to Sampha’s world, but the introduction is perfectly paced as the feel for Process is established. Anyone unfamiliar to the singer can immediately take note of his fantastic vocals and love for layered production. The second track, “Blood on Me,” was previously released as a single and for good reason, as it’s one of the more danceable tracks on the album. The production features jumpy hi hats and brooding piano chords which synchronize nicely for one of the most engaging beats. The lyrics express a fear of being followed and with the pressure behind Sampha’s voice, the listener feels that uncertain fear as well.
The next song, “Kora Sings,” has light and chaotic drum patterns that keep everything on edge. This is characteristic of the album as a whole, as there’s a characteristic longing to be found in the lyrics and reflects in the production. The song ends with a soft transition that’s necessary, as the next song is the quietest on Process. Track four, “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,” is a beautiful ode to the power of music. With lyrics like “You would show me I have something, some people call a soul” Sampha reflects on the escapism that music provides for many. Though he speaks from the perspective as a creator, listeners alike can relate to that universal appeal to be found in music.
The interlude to be found midway through the album, “Take Me Inside,” has very pretty piano notes, but ultimately falls just flat enough to establish it as the weakest moment on the album. Fortunately, it’s only two minutes and still provides a nice transition into the second half of the album. Quieter songs like the previous two give the listener a great chance to appreciate the little details in Sampha’s production, which skillfully takes the piano’s backbone and builds from there with sensitive electronic elements that flesh things out. It’s also an easy opportunity to take specific note of the poetic strength to be found in Sampha’s lyricism and delivery.
The absolute highlight of the album, “Reverse Faults,” builds its psychedelic production up with a dreamy atmosphere, before jumping into gear with its chorus. The cathartic impact that comes from said chorus is perfectly articulated through the lyrics, “Took the brake pads out the car / And I flew.” The production changes that come with each verse-chorus transition are wonderfully put together and help to make for the most enjoyable track here. Track seven, “Under,” comes through as another favorite and as a follow-up to “Reverse Faults,” completes a nice one-two punch. As an allusion to the track’s title, the layered production places the listener underwater and builds up until unpredictable synths cut through the closing minute to match Sampha’s ‘falling under’ his lover’s spell.
Much like some of the other quieter tracks, “Timmy’s Prayer” starts somber, but slowly builds up its production over the course of the first half. As Sampha pleads “I’m singing so blindly, can you hear me? / Can you find me?” the beat switches to match his passion. The lyrics of this song center on a desire for denied love, something that many can relate to. On that note, one of the strengths of Process is Sampha’s ability to write so well about personal experiences in an abstracted way so that most will be able to relate. This makes it very easy to build an emotional connection with the album and is a great talent for songwriters to have.
The penultimate track, “Incomplete Kisses,” is a thoughtful moment that recognizes the power of mental alienation. The chorus includes lyrics “Don’t let your mind hide your story / ‘Cause if you deny others inside it gets harder to belong” and reflects a fear of rejection that leads to social anxiety for many. Again, Sampha shows a real gift for writing beautifully about subjects that many will relate to. Finally, there’s “What Shouldn’t I Be?” which works as restrained closer to the album. The skeletal instrumental is incredibly stripped back, but it hits just the right notes to lace added effect into the lyrics. Here Sampha reflects on personal baggage, singing “Family ties / Tied around my neck / I’m walkin’ round high / A ghost by my side,” and it’s clear that he still has demons to come to terms with, despite the hopeful tone found in the previous track.
All things said, Process is a phenomenal debut from the singer who shows more poise than would be expected on a debut album. It’s impressive to note how Sampha handled the majority of producing and writing himself, aside from a couple guest credits on two tracks. As the sole artist responsible for everything on the album, it helps to explain why there’s such an emphasized consistency to be found track to track. With this well-crafted debut, Sampha has emerged as a talented artist to watch for.
Best Tracks: “Blood On Me” / “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” / “Reverse Faults”
Best Production: “Kora Sings” / “Incomplete Kisses”