Album Review: SAMPHA – LAHAI

6 years ago, I stumbled upon an artist who had a lot of buzz surrounding his debut album. That artist’s name is Sampha Lahai Sisay or just Sampha; he’s a English singer and songwriter from South London, At the start of his career, he’s collaborated with artists and groups like SBTRKT, Jessie Ware, Solange Knowles, Drake, Actress, and he released a couple of EPs at that point.

Then in 2017, he released his debut studio album Process, and the album got widespread critical acclaim, landing many accolades as one of the best albums of 2017. As for me, this was my #1 album of 2017. I wholeheartedly love that album, from its lean list of 10 songs under 40 minutes (or 68 minutes if it has the Japanese bonus tracks) to the sound and the tone and his voice… all of it just clicked; all of it was very emotional and moody in all the right ways and I just loved it.

It was so loved that we were all anticipating his next project… but we didn’t know when it was going to be.

Since then, Sampha has made a few guest appearances with the likes of David Byrne, Florence & The Machine, some British acts like the aforementioned Actress & SBTRKT, and even appearing on the latest Kendrick Lamar album, Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers. And now… in 2023, we finally got a follow up to Process with Lahai a.k.a. his middle name and his grandfather’s name, which was preceded by singles like “Spirit 2.0” (which has some contributions from Yaeji), and “Only.”

Now that we finally have the album here, there’s that familiar question… how was it?

This sounds like him in a better place than he was back in 2017. It might have been recorded during the pandemic as far as I know, and since that album, Sampha now has a daughter of his own and he seems to be in a clearer head space. The album focuses on his spiritual journey, self-discovery, and reflection, as he’s now entered another stage in his life. The music still has that ethereal and heavenly sound that I noticed in Process but a bit more experimental, starting with the single “Spirit 2.0” which was influenced by West African music, mainly Wassolou music with the drum patterns and the synths in there. Also, I said that Yaeji is one of the contributors on this song as she provided the last few seconds of vocals, but in Korean.

Just like Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Woo)
Try catch the clouds as I free fall
I was caught by the wings of my people (Woo)
Then you pick me up in your two-door (Yeah)
Hit the country roads, peaceful (Woo)

“Dancing Circles” is all about… well dancing,  and all with the clash of its acoustic/MIDI sound with some metronomic piano. And we are at the point where I’m going to tell you my favorite song on here, and that is “Suspended,” mainly dependent on the vocal work which transcends heavenly as he sings the chorus:

I’ve been lifted by her love
I fell lifted from above

Also, I love the way the drums come in halfway into the song as the minimalist first minute of it greatly builds it up.
Then there’s “Jonathan L. Seagull” and in case you’re like me and you don’t know the context of this, it is a novella from Richard Bach  titled Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It’s all about the title character breaking from his flock, going his own way and discovering himself. The chorus of the song said it perfectly.

Even though we’ve been through the same
Doesn’t always mean we feel the same (No-oh)
Doesn’t always mean we heal the same
You are not me and that’s okay (That’s okay)
Seasons come, seasons cry (Cry)
Seasons grow and seasons die (Oh-oh)
How high can a bird ever fly? Ever fly?

“Inclination Compass (Tenderness)” is another beautiful track with this soft piano going on, and of course Sampha’s vocals do so well in here. Once again, when the percussion comes in, it does it so perfectly. “Can’t Go Back” has that haunting vibe with him chanting that simple phrase, like you can’t go back to that way you used to be, having more of this mix of R&B/drum ‘n bass energy in there.

The album runs relatively short (much like the previous one) with a runtime of 40 minutes, and yes there are more tracks this time around with 14 songs, but some of those last either just a minute or even half of that (those mostly being instrumentals). The last finishing cuts “What if You Hypnotize Me?” & “Rose Tint” are beautiful songs that cap off the album.

All-in-all, this album was amazing from start to finish, and the wait was worth it! Sampha continues to have amazing vocals, mesmerizing production, and he manages to deliver an emotional and resonant project for us to process throughout; and of course, this has the potential to be on my best-of list by the end of the year, and we are dangerously close to it.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY IT! May your spirit soar high with this album.

LAHAI is on Young (formerly Young Turks [the label, not the one you might be thinking of]) and available on CD, vinyl, digital download and streaming services. Also available to buy on his site.

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