The best new full-lengths of February, from Sampha’s emotionally tender debut to Stormzy’s gospel-inflected grime
February has seen the release of dozens of full-length projects, be that the return of Brooklyn indie stars Dirty Projectors, a star-studded new album by Thundercat, or two new albums by Future. We’ve rounded up five of our favourite records this month, from Kingdom’s bleary-eyed club/R&B crossovers to Stormzy’s gospel-inspired grime.
KINGDOM – TEARS IN THE CLUB
Though Kingdom is primarily known for releasing unusual club music with labels like Night Slugs and Fade to Mind (which he co-founded), he’s also a remarkably talented R&B producer. He’s crafted sumptuous R&B bangers with Kelela and Dawn Richard, and the self-taught producer’s debut album Tears in the Club sees him up the ante by teaming up with established vocalists including SZA and Syd tha Kyd. These singers provide the album’s highlights, weightlessly floating atop Kingdom’s often melancholic beats, but the rest of the record shows how far his instrumental club tracks have come over the years. They sound sparse and atmospheric, yet listen closer and their details and sonic intricacies reveal themselves.
SAMPHA – PROCESS
Sampha’s strained and soulful voice has ornamented songs by Kanye West, Drake, Solange and more, but his debut album Process illustrates just how talented a producer and songwriter he is, too. Written in the period immediately before and after his mother’s death from cancer, the album is a touching and often-heartbreaking exploration of grief, with Sampha’s abstract yet evocative lyrics capturing the conflicting emotions of this time. Process features both Sampha’s boldest songs (the propulsive pop track “Blood On Me”) and his most emotionally raw (the poignant “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano”) to date.
STORMZY – GANG SIGNS & PRAYER
2017 has barely gotten underway, but it’s already provided the world with two solid grime albums. In January, Wiley dropped the excellent Godfather, while the following month saw south London MC Stormzy put out his debut full-length Gang Signs & Prayer. The latter record is a real surprise: although it’s full of bangers, taking in grime, hip hop, and R&B, it’s also full of unexpected gospel-influenced tracks written with Adele/Sam Smith collaborator Fraser T Smith. Stormzy has the charisma to flip between the two styles effortlessly, making Gang Signs & Prayer an album not miles away from Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book – often earnest and sentimental, but never schmaltzy.
SYD – FIN
Syd has described her debut solo album as “in-between thing” compared to her more recognisable project The Internet. It’s an understated way to describe her creative endeavours, but it reflects the laidback feeling of Fin pretty well. The album is effortlessly cool and casually confident across its 12 neo-soul-inspired R&B tracks, but dig deeper and the subtle, off-hand moments become humongous in their own way. Take the rarely-heard queer perspective of lyrics like “Dollar Bills”, for example (“Don't know about you, but I'm feeling like the man / And she dancing like she knows I am”), or the way that Syd deconstructs her own seeming self-assuredness on “Insecurities” (“You can thank my insecurities / They’re the reason I was down so long”).
VISIBLE CLOAKS – REASSEMBLAGE
In 2010, Visible Cloaks’ Spencer Doran released Fairlights, Mallets and Bamboo – Fourth-World Japan, Years 1980-1986, an influential mixtape that highlighted an underappreciated period of Japanese ambient and new age music. Today, many of the artists featured on the mix have undergone a renaissance – it’s not uncommon to see vinyl labels reissuing obscure synth projects, or long-forgotten ambient records racking up millions of plays thanks to YouTube’s AutoPlay algorithms – so it’s a perfect time for Visible Cloaks to release an album indebted to the sounds of this era. Yet Reassemblage take these ideas in unusual and otherwise unexplored directions; instead, it’s a gorgeous and beguiling record, recalling the early synth experiments of an artist like Oneohtrix Point Never.