Drake, Solange, Kanye, Frank Ocean – the list could go on. But for the reputation that comes with a portfolio of collaborators like this, South London’s Sampha Sisay has a remarkably small amount of music to his own name. A duo of EPs – 2010’s ‘Sundanza’ and 2013’s ‘Dual’ - have touched upon the artists own identity, but as Sampha prepares to release his first full-length, he has so much of his own story left to tell.
It’s a debut born from a sustained period of growth, discovery and reflection, both in Sampha’s personal life and that of his music. While his artistic development has been aided through his willingness to work and tour with others, it’s a schedule that’s seen his own projects given less priority. At home, the illness and subsequent passing of his mother in September 2015 saw him move back to the family home in Morden to care for her. From these experiences comes ‘Process’, a debut bursting with ideas, broad in scope, and vivid in its storytelling.
Sampha’s mother is perhaps the best place to begin when discussing ‘Process’. A centrepiece of the album, ‘Like The Piano’ addresses her and showcases the emotional intimacy that runs through his music. His is a voice with a strikingly natural emotional tone, but as the vocals break to near silence on the song’s final line, it touches at something much more raw than the voice with which he’s been gifted.
‘Incomplete Kisses’ and ‘Why Shouldn’t I Be?’ too are tender offerings that draw on explicitly familial themes, telling stories and exploring feelings in straightforward yet poignant terms. But it’s Sampha’s ear for wonky melodies that are forever injecting new life in to his balladry.
These tracks are the lower points among an album with numerous highs and, when taken as a whole, it’s a more direct and muscular offering than anything he’s put his name to before. Opener ‘Plastic 100ºC’ is a spectacle of tightly looped percussive samples, huge-sounding layered vocal washes, and waves of synth. It’s followed by the cinematic ‘Blood On Me’, the intense clarity of its storytelling matched by the suffocating, ever-swelling cacophony that surrounds the track’s foreboding piano stabs. On ‘Reverse Faults’ and ‘Under’, his production nous feels more refined and complete than the potential he displayed on ‘Sundanza’.
Sampha’s journey to now has developed a wonderfully versatile artist, and on ‘Process’ he succeeds in tying these strands of his musicianship together in to a record that’s concise and focused. It’s an album that conveys immense depth of feeling, while remaining resoundingly clear in thought – the sound of an artist finally seizing a unique space of his own.