Pain and Beauty: Sampha’s “Process” Album Review

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London songwriter Sampha Sisay has a lot on his mind. After slowly ascending through the maze of the music industry, working with acts such as Solange, SBTRKT, Drake, and many more, the piano and electronic mastermind has finally blessed us with his full-length LP, “Process.” The album is hauntingly intimate, and slowly draws the listener into Sampha’s inner world, letting us revolve around the fears, aspirations, and insecurities that weave in and out of his mind.

At first listen, the sound of this album is thick and warm, manifesting the meditative and reflective quality of the album. As Sampha opens the door a little wider with each song, listeners are hit with waves of piano, flowing synth lines, and the soft, comforting falsetto of Sampha himself. Intimate piano songs contrast with driving tracks that use vocal layers and textured electronics to build Sampha’s idiosyncratic and fascinating sound. From the outset you are knee-deep in his creation, and held down by the sheer weight of it.

Second on the album, stand-out track “Blood on Me” brings the emotion into the stratosphere, setting the tone for the feelings of discomfort, foreboding, and escape that seem to haunt the artist. Ghostly vocals litter the background as listeners explore the haunted wasteland of the song, hoping that Sampha can escape whatever demons pursue him. One minute he’s dreaming, then the next he’s escaping by car and crashing into a tree. Yet, inside of the song there is an unnamed savior, someone who wipes his wounds clean.

The feeling of being haunted permeates the album, oozing and dripping through every pore of lyrics and sound. As we pull back each fold of Sampha’s psyche, we find a brain that is processing these thoughts, dreams, and memories, baring each regret and weakness to the listener. It’s an album of Sampha, who lost his mother recently, spilling his guts and sorting through what’s left so he can put the pieces back together. Though the pain is excruciating and real, the listeners are rewarded with a raw and beautiful experience, one that is universal and healing, albeit not displayed so well on the canvas of an album.

Throughout “Process”, Sampha proves himself a master of songwriting and composition, showing the contrast and reflection of his own mind. Slow ballads suddenly explode into driving, emotional outbursts; backgrounds disappear until Sampha’s voice is left bare in all its beauty, pleading and hopeful in equal measures. Simple and beautiful closer “What Shouldn’t I Be?” is aching with its marimba-like synth backing, letting Sampha croon about family, moving on, and uncertainty in the lush tones that his voice so effortlessly achieves; a ghostly cry in the background brings the album to a close.

Despite the hurt, pain, and regret, this process is one worth going through. It’s best to join Sampha in this inner journey and see what comes out on the other end, letting the music become a vehicle for moving on.

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