Sampha — Process ANALYSIS & REVIEW
Speaking of “Process”, I’d be interested to know Sampha’s process in writing melodic lines. The way the melody acted, it seems as if it was written and recorded in completely different places than the rest of the music, not knowing what the other sounded like, but their synthesis turned out to be happy accidents that sounded very sensible. That’s obviously an exaggeration, but in all honestly these melodies never seemed to be in cooperation with the harmony, and yet still had enough legitimacy of its own to render strong emotions. This was mostly done by Sampha’s attention to pacing and clarity throughout his sung lines.
Pitch-wise the melody was never in a great spot and left more confusion than needed, but the overall movement and timing of the deliveries proved to be strong. This is all summed up best in the song “Kora Sings”. Vocal range played a rather large role as well, and in general Sampha found more intriguing shapes for the melodies when in his higher register. The melodies may not hook you in or give incredible sustenance, but they do well to clearly lay out the form and establish a groove, even if it’s one different from the backing band.
The harmony was at its most creative in this album when Sampha was on the piano. Not only is piano perhaps the easiest solo instrument to find creative harmony from, but Sampha also has a refreshing and unique language in his own two hands with great fluid motion and groove. My favorite song on this album was “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”, and it was very much because of that. That fluidity was notably missing in the songs not featuring the piano, which was most of them. The harmony never came out and played as cool of a role as it did when the piano was present.
One of the weirdest aspects of the harmony was the way in which some of the music seemed to dance around quite freely while the other part of the music stayed on one note as a pedal tone. Both sides were unique and ended up making some cool sonorities, but I didn’t really understand its purpose beyond that. The background texture did provide some nice countermelodies at times, which made the harmony all the more important and interesting. As a whole, harmony was very important and gave some real substance to the music, but it had trouble reaching the listener on more than one level at times.
Nothing was as special and brilliant as the timbres in the two songs that bookended the album, and in the middle the use of electronic sounds to drive the album was hit and miss with quality. One of the better songs was “Under”, using synthetic textures to a nice advantage while the pitch material was rather static. Songs like “Reverse Faults”, however, made the weird only weirder with the repetition of odd sounds that had no real future in giving much more the music. The beats were unique and well-presented, giving the listener a nice grounded feeling and was at times the only action that kept the music alive.
As with the harmonic structure, the piano also greatly enhanced the timbre when it was present. It provided very familiar and touching emotions, all while bringing out the most important musical moments quite effectively. Sampha is a strong piano player, and I would’ve liked to hear either more of his playing or more extreme attention to the atmosphere. Nothing was poorly done in terms of the sound or the production, though, and this was a nice relaxing listen overall.
This was Sampha’s debut album, but he had already begun making a name for himself as a guest artist on some very high profile projects. Having the support and kinship that he does with the likes of Kanye West, Drake, and Solange Knowles, I’m sure many people are interested in his first solo LP and his career in general. Many listeners can enjoy this album for its relaxing and conversational pace, as well as some unique stories told through mellow sounds. I think this is a great start to his solo career, and Process will be rightly well liked. I hope to hear more cohesion in his music and stronger dependency on piano going forward.