London based beat builder Sampha has been popping up in the work of some of the fore figures in the pop/hip-hop world over the last few years. Beyonce, Kayne, Drake and Solange have all enlisted his dulcet tones in the hope that some of the unique vulnerability that characterises his voice will rub off. Within the confines of other people’s tunes Sampha is the raw nerve of emotion, a place he seems to be particularly adept at reaching. It’s a quality that permeates Process, a purity, a cowering sensitivity that longs for protection like a three-legged puppy with an eye patch.
Still just 28 years old Sampha displays a sense of maturity on Process far beyond what could be expected from someone so young, hinting at the time he’s put into studio experimenting with other artists. Figuring out the intricacy of studio trickery has been put to good use on Process. The backing tracks of beats, loops and melodic hooks anchor Sampha’s loosely structured almost free-form songs and act as a malleable boundary for his voice and piano to meander within.
‘(No One Konows Me) Like the Piano’ is a beautiful, autobiographical soul song built upon a couple of simple piano chords. It’s an example of the process used to put this record together working perfectly. ‘Timmy’s Prayers’ is another, its instantly familiar melodica hook looms in the background as the soft strength of the vocals bubble as close to the point of anger as they’ll get. ‘Blood On Me’ with its panicked cow bell describes getting lost in a city that jostles with a paranoia-inducing frantic energy. ‘Incomplete Kisses’ is another of the album’s highlights.
Structural freedom makes this album stand out but it also allows some of the tracks to drift. Tracks where the hook isn’t quite as strong as the ones mentioned above flow too freely into the realm of background noise escaping the ear. As a whole the record phases in and out of your attention peaking when the melodically strong hooks come in, wandering when that malleable boundary becomes stretched.
Process is the kind of record that develops the more you listen to it, morphs from one form to another, becomes something completely different with familiarity. You’ve got to give a little to really get something back like an SSIA for the musically minded.