There is really only one way to start this review, and that is with this question: how did it take this long for Sampha to release his own solo material? Not only is he a vital cog in the formidable dance music machine that is SBTRKT (let’s face it, would “Hold On” still be as excellent as it is without his wistful vocals over it?), he’s collaborated with sultry songstress Jessie Ware as well as production wunderkind Koreless and he even features on Drake’s new single “The Motion”. Yet, despite teasing us with the odd demo here and there (a rough recording of the track “Indecision” made its way online almost two years ago now), it’s taken him up until now to put together an official solo release.
Dual is an infinitely more personal affair compared to the skittering, hyperactive SBTRKT productions, bearing more resemblance to “Valentine” – his collaboration with Jessie Ware – than anything else we’ve previously heard. This is also the first chance for Sampha to bring his own impressive production talents to the table. Whether it’s hazy, minimal R’n’B in the form of “Without”, the heart-wrenching piano ballad “Indecision” or the gospel-influenced flavour of “Hesitant Oath” that fades away before you’re even able to register it, Sampha covers a surprising amount of ground in just six tracks.
Although production wise there are undoubtedly some slip-ups on here – the distant Blackberry message alerts and purposely amateurish recording of opener “Demons” ends up sounding more vacuous than genuinely intimate, while the percussive shuffle of “Without” just doesn’t build up in the way that it is crying out to – there are some overwhelmingly brilliant moments on this EP. “Beneath The Tree” sees Sampha at his most reflective and evaluative (“Don’t fail me now, I need your wishes”), backed up by minimal yet effective drums that drift into the equation about halfway through, sounding much like his and Koreless’ work under their Short Stories moniker. Meanwhile, the highlight of the EP, “Indecision”, could well end up being one of the most slept-on pop songs of 2013, worthy of far more accolades than it will ever receive. Sampha’s voice really is one in a million, drifting effortlessly over each song with an inimitable ease that hasn’t been heard since Frank Ocean on Channel Orange.
All things considered, Dual feels likes a sketchbook of amazing ideas rather than a fully-fledged EP. With two of the six tracks less than a minute long, the EP is as frustrating a listen as it is emotionally compelling. It would be tempting fate to hazard a guess at what’s next for Sampha (apart from the new SBTRKT album due next year), but if he was able to refine some of his ideas and chisel away at his productions then I would have no problem waiting another three-or-so years to hear a full-length record of his.
3.5 out of 5
You can buy Dual on Amazon.