I’ve loved Sampha for a long time. From his repeated collaborations with SBTRKT and his steady stream of singles, it seems he’s been there in the background for forever, just waiting to take over. The fact that he already appears to have worked with everyone – Katy B, Drake, Jessie Ware and even Kanye – simply makes this album long overdue. And what a great album it is.
Everything feels crafted and hand-tuned to a kind of retro-modern soul feel. In every track, it is Sampha’s vocals that provide the drive – they’re allowed to run ahead, to float above and predominate the background. This is exactly as it should be, because his voice is a thing of beauty. Though in some ways he can be slotted in together with the likes of MNEK (high-ranged, with a history of featuring on dance tracks), he shouldn’t be. There is a sensitivity and bareness in everything he sings, as if each lyric is loaded with an indescribable weight. There’s no façade.
The production is brilliant, as you would hopefully expect. Sampha is worked to weave around your ears, coming from all directions, distorted and clean at once. Rippling acoustics and abstract sounds rustle behind vocal lines. Often, the songs burst out into pulsing syncopated rhythmic breaks (see: Kora Sings). These show Sampha in a different context from most of his earlier solo music – the aesthetic is more similar to his guest work on others’ dance tracks. Everything still feels mellow, ready to wash you over in a warm haze. Even the faster, more drum-heavy tracks – Blood on Me or Under – come to highlight the what it is that makes the album’s quieter moments so haunting. I’ve always felt that Sampha is at his best when everything is stripped back to raw vocals – just listen to recent single (No One Knows Me Like) The Piano to see why. There’s a reason it’s my absolute favourite song of the year so far. Alone with just a piano, that song’s lonely stillness turns his singing into a kind of prayer. Each note is full of longing, aching over the keys. You can feel him pouring himself into the music.
That sense of vulnerability is what really underpins the album. The whole LP runs together in clean succession, from strong electronic beats to absolute intimacy, yet as a result it still keeps its cohesion. Nothing is out of place. I can’t wait to see what comes next.