On Process, British singer and songwriter Sampha drops one of 2017’s longest awaited and most satisfying releases – a beautiful art pop project that encompasses the highlights of alternative electronica and contemporary neo-soul, creating a seamless and engaging listening experience from start to finish. South Londoner Sampha’s debut lives up to the hype, even surpassing it, building on ideas from his previous EPs and defining Process as an album that is startlingly modern.
Opening track Plastic 100°C begins the album, a slowly stirring and beautiful track that is equal parts romantic and melancholy. Sampha treads a fine line between lushness and minimalism – harps drive this track forward, but it quickly evolves into something more, with layers of pads and electronica elements thickening up the mix. Hi hat rolls and booming kicks accompany Sampha’s soul sensibilities, creating a sound reminiscent of James Blake in its fusion of of alternative soul and British electronica, yet far more smooth, soulful, and human.
While Sampha often aims for a more subtle and resigned sound in some ways, tracks like Blood on Me and Reverse Faults are forward and powerful. Blood on Me has Sampha deliver his unique vocal style over an instrumental that sees tense piano chords ride beneath a frantic breakbeat. Process is a collage of different sounds that Sampha knows how to put together perfectly – the album’s production is never too empty nor too full, while the interplay and contrasts between separate sounds and instrumentation is beautiful.
Kora Sings is Vespertine-esque, drawing from Björk’s fast paced, ambient, and percussive art pop stylings. It’s forward moving, forward thinking, and unrelenting in its willingness to deliver new sounds and ideas. Few other tracks from Process feature a groove like this. Take Me Inside has similar contrasts between various sounds, as Sampha orchestrates walls of sound that are anything but. Exchanges between acoustic and electronic sounds, between harps and synthesizers, and between drum machines and lush live percussion, are what give this album such a wonderful flavour.
When electronica finds itself oversaturated by samey singers, Sampha’s vocal performance carves out its own individual style. He’s ethereal and soulful, vocals working equally well in both piano ballads such as (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano, as well as in the sparkly and electronic Incomplete Kisses. Sampha knows exactly when and how to meld his voice with the instrumentation and evoke the emotion he desires from listeners – in part to his strong performance, but also owing to his poetic lyricism. (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano has Sampha deliver a heartfelt and personal ballad, the resigned piano backing making way for his lyrics and vocals. Process fuses lyricism and musical contexts flawlessly.
Under intros with layers of acapella, a musical motif that draws listeners into the track and rewards them as it pops back in later in the song. The tiny, subtle aspects of Process are what make it amazing – on every new listen, it’s likely you’ll notice something amidst a track that you didn’t last time. Moodier but high powered Reverse Faults is full of these subtleties, little things you won’t notice the first time as you find yourself moving along to the music.
Incomplete Kisses is one of Process’ most romantic and catchy songs, a beautiful second-to-last track that breaks the melancholia and despair of much of the album. It’s a bit new wavey, almost a bit new romantic, but it’s wonderful too. Process is an album laden in light reverb and choral backings, creating an aura of openness and wideness that both more upbeat tracks like Incomplete Kisses and Timmy’s Prayer, as well as those more melancholy, capitalise on.
Closer What Shouldn’t I Be? is ambient and littered with emotion, familiar harps joining misty background wails as the album ends. It’s the perfect closer, with both musical and emotional resolution. Process is the sort of album, that, after listening, you really need that silence after the final track to let it resonate and sink in.
Process is an amazing work, an album well worth the wait and months of counting down days. Sampha’s debut satisfies every hope anyone could have had for his first full length project, bringing together art pop, electronica, and alternative r&b together in a combination that is both eclectic yet surprisingly cohesive. 2017 is shaping up to be Sampha’s year.