“Process” is the long awaited debut album from British Singer/Songwriter and Producer Sampha Sisay.
To get some context Sampha lost his father to Cancer in 1998 when he was young and in 2005 he lost his mother to the same disease. Sampha himself has a physical lump in his throat which doctors have been unable to give him much answer to what it actually is.
The reason these points are important is that it gives further depth to many of the lyrics that may at times seem a little abstract.
I will say that I find this album absolutely outstanding. From the fragile nervousness portrayed in his vocal to the melodies which seem to strike a chord within me that activates a sadness that I find it hard to explain.
There is an emotional resonance within these ten songs that I have become lost in since I begun listening to the album which I have done so on repeat for a few days now.
I first became aware of Sampha on the Solange album A Seat At The Table – Solange (2016) on the song “Don’t Touch My Hair”. I found his vocal engaging on that track and this has just carried through to his debut.
Sampha plays on how understated he is. He doesn’t shy away from the shyness. Perhaps this is just an amplification of his sub conscious and I am sure to get where he has got to there needed to be a certain confidence that drove him but this project is set out in a way that just allows you to listen to his inner thoughts that have all come to the boil.
The instrumentation on the opening track “Plastic 100°C” is alluring. His voice is soft and delicate. He sings about his fears about life and his immortality. He references the issues he has had with his own medical anomalies:
Usually I’d run home, and tuck the issue under
Oh, sleeping with my worries, yeah, I didn’t really know what that lump was, my luck
“Blood On Me” is my most played track from the album. The amount of times I have got to the end and instead of moving on to the next song I have gone back to listen just one more time is bordering on obsessive.
There are a few aspects that keep me wanting to hear the track. The beat is infectious and the production is crisp. The moment he starts singing he is out of breath – some may think this is deliberate but you’d have to be silly to think that.
He challenges himself vocally on this song and really sounds afraid of this dream he is waking up from but doesn’t really know if he awake at all.
I feel for him in this song because he genuinely comes across as frightened and confused.
Aside from the theme of the song the hook is catchy and at the 3 minute mark the song breaks down to create such a ethereal atmosphere. I love this song.
The third track “Kora Sings” I don’t love as much but after a few listens it will grow on you. The international flavour the instrumentation takes on can see the song be a little hard to follow initially but the coldness of the production is warmed by the soulful vocal Sampha lays down.
“(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano” is one of the most beautiful ballads I have heard in such a long time. The song is simply about his love for the piano that was in his home growing up. It arrived when he was 3 years ago and he mentions that it was this piano that showed him what it was to have a soul.
When his mother died the piano got him through the pain and in the second verse he lays this out:
An angel by her side, all the times I knew we couldn’t cope
They said that it’s her time, no tears in sight, I kept the feelings close
And you took hold of me and never, never, never let me go
Cause no one knows me like the piano in my mother’s home
On the back of the sleeve notes there is a picture of him when he was very young and his mother. Listening to this song when looking at this picture cannot help but stir an emotion of sadness. Sampha lays it all out for the listener with this extremely personal song and when you actually just read the lyrics the effect is even more striking.
“Take Me Inside” retains the piano as the main driver but this song for the final minute drifts into this spacey electronic production that creates an atmosphere to get lost in. The electronic sound is really on point as Sampha sings about a relationship that seems to be coming to an end and he is telling this person that they can go and be free.
“Reverse Faults” has an erratic and wavy electronic beat. The confusion with the tune is to go hand in hand with the content of the lyrics which is about confusion that someone has hurt him and trying to blame him for everything. His voice in this song is outstanding and this entire song again fits into the world Sampha has created on this album. You get sucked into his emotional portrayal of life that it is difficult to see anything else.
The 7th track “Under” is one of the many highlights that “Process” has to offer. This is a song like “Blood On Me” that I have found myself playing time and time again. There are parts in this song that his voice has me stopped in my tracks. I don’t know what it is about his vocal that just gets me. It triggers some emotional switch within me that I can’t control.
“Under” is utterly hypnotic and mesmerizing.
“Timmy’s Prayer” is the 8th track on the set. This track has a slightly different feel to the other songs on the album probably due to when it was recorded which seems to have been in 2013. The rest of the album seems uniform in production style and whilst there is not am massive different it is noticeable.
I find this track a little bit on the mundane side but this is probably due to the rest of the album being of such a high quality.
“Incomplete Kisses” brings me back to the good stuff although the instrumental never really develops and is one of the more low key instrumentation tracks on here but the vocal gives the song that depth that Sampha seems to be able to add to any track.
The final track “What Shouldn’t I Be?” is a very minimalist track but the peacefulness that it offers is fitting to the lyrics where Sampha is questioning what he should do with his life and how his family would have seen the path he has followed.
To add to the death of his Mother and Father his brother suffered a serious stroke which left him disabled. Sampha talks about his in this song about how he hasn’t visited his brother in a while and there is guilt within him that eats away.
The song ends quite abruptly which is one of few criticisms as I don’t really think we get a conclusion to how Sampha will move forward but I can only hope that he knows that the possibilities are endless.
Sometimes ever so often music can make you feel something new. I don’t know Sampha but I feel that through his music I do. The perspective he has put forward on dealing with life is something I understand and this is another album that helps with the struggle that can be living.
I haven’t enjoyed listening to an album this much in years.
A very special piece.