The rising tide of alternative R&B has brought up with it many boats. Recent years have seen the likes of the Weeknd and Frank Ocean ride the wave of this moody subgenre, but 2017 seems to be the year that London’s Sampha floats highest.
Process adds to the bountiful supply of down-tempo jewels on the UK’s Young Turks label – also home to the likes of The xx and FKA twigs. The album, his debut full-length, was written and recorded in Norway, and you can almost hear the cold Scandinavian breeze winding through Sampha’s mournful vocals.
His lamentations are well founded; the album’s themes revolve mainly around his late mother’s battle with cancer. ‘Timmy’s Prayer’, an optimistic instrumental base, is undermined by pained lyrics. In the last verse, it comes to a head: ‘I’m waiting cause I’m fucked up,’ he wails.
Instrumentally, Process rarely falters. At its most delicate, such as the ballad ‘(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano’, each soft chord beautifully complements the layered vocals. When the intensity steps up a notch, as it does on ‘Under’, samples are chopped and skewed over patchy drum patterns. When Sampha ominously sings ‘I smashed this window in my heart,’ on ‘Reverse Faults’, the stuttering synths make it all the more unsettling.
‘Blood on Me’ may become Sampha’s defining song, and for good reason. Seldom will you hear this level of breathless passion delivered outside of a heavy metal concert. The lyrics tell of a hounding, harrowing nightmare: a tyrannical anxiety, which, when questioned in an interview, he equates to a type of sleep paralysis. ‘It’s me, running away from fears I hide deep in my self-psyche,’ he elaborates to Genius. Far from an emotional catharsis, this moment in Process is a show-stopping fever dream.
Despite this, if you have heard Sampha as a featured artist on a large-billing pop track and not thought much of him, you’re probably not alone. Stacked up against Kanye West’s ‘Saint Pablo’ and Solange’s ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’, he seems to occupy an almost anonymous space – an ethereal chorus vocal that plays second fiddle to the star. His debut LP, however, tells the story of a very different and very unique artist. Process is the sound of an artist who has found their true identity.
Star Rating: 4/5