PROCESS by Sampha
Genre: Alternative R&B
Favorite Tracks: “Plastic 100°C,” “Blood on Me,” “What Shouldn’t I Be?”
PROCESS is a gorgeous and well curated debut that arrives a few years too late to fit into a subgenre whose originality, relevance, and innovation are quickly diminishing.
One of the most impressive aspects of PROCESS is its sonic palette. The album predominately features piano, drums, synths, strings, and vocal samples characteristic of Sampha’s peer SOHN. Though the album always sounds full and well developed, it never sounds excessive, exaggerated, or overwhelming. Upon first listen it is easy to understand how Sampha waited four years to release his first full length, as the album is expertly produced like a minimal art gallery whose walls remain mostly blank, but still feel full of life.
The only exception to the impeccable instrumentation and production is the track “Timmy’s Prayer,” which commences with an irritating synth that sounds like a mixture of a bagpipe and a 1970s Moog. As the track develops, it reaches a shuffling climax that sounds like a lackluster attempt to emulate a Haim song that would have been cutting edge in 2013.
As a whole, the album plays like it should have been released four years ago, when emotional electronic singer/songwriters dominated a blogosphere that now seems to welcome Atlanta trap more than stylish R&B. Sampha’s solo career simply does not compare to his features, in which his sophisticated London drawal perfectly transports the listener to a wistful rainy day in the city. Though his feature on ENDLESS was brief, his appearance on “Alabama” was the most genuinely emotive Sampha has sounded to date, especially in comparison with his solo work.
Sampha’s obvious Achilles’ heel is his tendency to sound disingenuous in his performances. Though all of Sampha’s songs feature outwardly poignant and insightful lyrics, his delivery as a singer rarely compares to his songwriting, which frequently makes his tracks feel unimpassioned in their intent. Sampha has a tendency to sing more like Sam Smith than his more obvious peer, James Blake, whose stunning vocal performances carry as much weight as his lyrics. Even at his lyrical finest, Sampha plays like coffee shop Muzak at its most aesthetically pleasing.
Sampha’s stalest moment comes on the album’s single “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano.” The outwardly gorgeous but inwardly soulless track sounds like it was written to guarantee female attention instead of being a heartfelt ode to Sampha’s love of music. The track is arguably the album’s most disappointing moment, as Sampha’s unique love letter to the piano on which he learned to play music could be his most interesting perspective as a songwriter to date instead of the peak of PROCESS’s phony heartening.
The soullessness of PROCESS comes mainly from its lack of lyrical depth. Upon multiple listens, there appear to be few genuine or touching lyrics throughout the album. Overall, Sampha is more lyrically comparable to an Ed Sheeran-type than the indie R&B powerhouse that he is lauded as. Sadly, even with the pristine sonic sheen that coats PROCESS, there is a lack of lyrical purity that keeps PROCESS from feeling notable or complete.
Though Sampha’s debut is technically beautiful throughout the vast majority of its 40 minute length, it lacks a genuine depth. PROCESS’s delicacy often feels transparent at its core, and despite the sensitive character he portrays, Sampha often feels like a songwriter who is trying to woo women instead of tell the stories he has been waiting his entire life to share with his listeners.
Sampha’s musical peers not only feel more genuine than him, but are also undeniably more progressive, as the vast majority of them had released full lengths three or four years before Sampha released PROCESS, an album that brings almost nothing new to an already cluttered table.
While PROCESS is aesthetically flawless and perfectly manicured, it is untimely and lacks the intention and emotional depth that could have justified relevance despite its place in an oversaturated fad. Though Sampha certainly has potential for improvement, it will require an uncharacteristically timely and heartfelt sophomore album for Sampha to earn a reputation as one of indie-R&B’s standout songwriters.