2017 Review – Best Songwriting

Our votes for Best Songwriting are as follows…

3. Kendrick Duckworth & Patrick Douthit – Kendrick Lamar – Duckworth (18.18%)

2. Sampha Sisay – Sampha – Blood On Me (22.73%)

1. Joshua Tillman – Father John Misty – Pure Comedy (27.27%)

Sampha – Process Review 

Sampha is not just another producer turned musician. Sure, there’s plenty of them roaming about on this island, but the South London artist may well be the real deal. Having offered vocals for SBTRKT in 2011, he’s since worked with Drake, Kanye and most recently work extensively on Solange’s album last year, he has the CV like many of these producers do. What seems different about is Sampha is a real feel for songwriting and an ear for imaginative and innovative methods of delivering tracks. In many ways, there is little pressure on him; he’s already proved himself behind the scenes, but stepping into the centre of the stage is a bold move nonetheless. It seems like a move that Sampha will take in his stride though, for he is undeniably talented, more so than most of the people he’s worked with. So what does one of Britain’s brightest emerging talents have to offer?

‘Blood On Me’ was one of the lead singles in the lead up to the album and on the face of it, there’s not a great deal significant about it. With popping beats and drawn out piano chords, it is aesthetically not too different from SOHN’s work for example. What is different about this is that Sampha generates a greater flow to this sound and it is seamlessly tied to his vocals which are understated, yet still carry the song. He has an ability to generate a narrative too, with a tense content echoing around the track. Any gaps in the sound are often filled with even the smallest synth chord or sample and this attention to detail becomes much more noticeable across the whole track. ‘Kora Sings’ is a celebration of his roots in Sierra Leone. It is here that he demonstrates his versatility more directly. The instrumentation is made of several instricate riffs, tapping beats and shuffling percussion before opening out into a rhythmic track with a strong, sharp percussion. The swift change in tone is masterfully read by Sampha who gently alters his vocal between the soulful delivery of the verse and the hushed, distant sound of the chorus which engages in a call and response with his genuine vocals. A well throught out and balanced track which packs a kick without overstretching itself. 

‘Reverse Faults’ opens in a simple, minimalist way with deep, whirring beats, but these are slowly joined by a wonderfully arranged sample of falling, meandering beats and sounds which brilliantly serve as the rhythm section of the song. From here, the song goes on effortlessly to collapse into the chorus on a trap drop into a series of plunging beats that are tinged with distortion with repetitious popping beats above them. Throughout the shifts Sampha’s breathy tones are unmoved by the collage of sound around him. A coolly delivered track made from a masterful arrangement and instrumentation. ‘Incomplete Kisses’ is made up from of wiry and pitch shifted, resonant electronica with vibrating beats and glistening chords. Again, there is a hint of distortion at the edge of each heavy beat to give a greater impact to the sound without overwhelming it. He is also able to pull these sounds to leave just his more powerful vocals and some sparse piano chords. The ballad of the album comes in the form of ‘(No One Knows Me) Like My Piano’. Aptly, it is a piano ballad that is a personal track that reflects on his youth and his mothers death in 2015. His effortless, yet rich sounding vocals are on centre stage here with only a subtle addition to add more space to the track. ‘Plastic 100C’ a series of intricate sample of plucked strings Form the foundation for a much greater sound supplemented a rolling production. ‘Under’ makes use of vocal samples set around a slow, hip hop beat. 

With Process Sampha demonstrates his sublime talents as a producer and arranger. He’s also well rounded to produce clever and emotional lyrical content delivered with a mature and wonderfully simple vocal performance. His attention to detail in most areas adds so much to his songs as they run their course. He can do from a simple foundation, but can also turn this on its head by making the core sound of track complex and multi-layered too. It’s undoubtedly one of the highlights of this year and I can say this safely in February. 

Sampha – Process = 9/10 

Owen Riddle