The first striking thing about Process, the expansive debut from British electro-soul wunderkind Sampha, is the lack of star power in its liner notes. The 28-year-old has earned accolades working as a writer and featured guest with top-tier talent including Beyoncé, Drake, and Frank Ocean, but over Process‘ 10 songs, Sampha executes a sonically adventurous vision that’s entirely his own and builds on his enormous potential.
Sampha’s foremost strength is his chameleonic voice, which remains a silky constant whether he’s channeling claustrophobic paranoia on epic lead single “Blood on Me” or dealing in bare-bones piano balladry on “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano.” And when his voice and considerable lyrical acumen collide, like on sweeping, somber opener “Plastic 100°C,” the product can be astonishing: On that cut, Sampha’s metaphor comparing fame to melting plastic — “Magnifying glass upon my face / It’s so hot I’ve been melting out here” — is truly affecting.
While most of his high-profile collaborators are absent on Process — save Kanye West, who recruited Sampha for last year’s “Saint Pablo” and co-wrote “Timmy’s Prayer” here — their influence is apparent throughout. Part of the album’s fun comes from observing Sampha as he fuses disparate sounds — Ocean’s confessional R&B, West’s futuristic hip-hop, SBTRKT’s twitchy electronica — in fresh ways on cuts like “Reverse Faults” and “Incomplete Kisses.” And when the beat drops on “Kora Sings,” it sounds like gypsy music transported to the dancefloor at a sweaty Berlin club.
Not all Sampha’s experimentation works out, though, making Process more notable for its highlights than as a cohesive work. Sequenced after the phenomenal “Like the Piano,” the elegiac piano of “Take Me Inside” reads as a lesser version of the same song — and eventually concludes with an out-of-place synth coda. And the directionless closer “What Shouldn’t I Be?” ends the album on a lackluster note. Still, during Process‘ best moments Sampha exudes creativity and confidence that will make him a compelling artist for years to come.