Sampha is likely best known as SBTRKT's stagemate and—for all intents and purposes—being a guest star on the masked producer's 2011 breakout self-titled LP. In addition, the London vocalist/producer has successfully partnered with Jessie Ware, served as half of Short Stories alongside Koreless, and has even worked with Canadian mega-rapper Drake. In the wake of all of these high-profile collaborations, Sampha has been left with a tall task while stepping out on his own. Dual is his debut solo EP, and though it may not exactly be a triumph, its two brief sketches and four complete tracks go a long way toward establishing Sampha as a unique talent outside the shadows of his past partnerships.
A solo Sampha record surely has been imminent for some time, especially following the success of SBTRKT's debut LP and the months of well-received touring that followed. Those who had hoped or anticipated that the resulting effort would resemble some sort of SBTRKT 2.0 will be disappointed by this EP. That said, this divergence actually serves Sampha well; on Dual, he sounds uninterested in attempting to link to any of his past projects, even sounding like a producer who's still in search of his own individual stamp. While this proves to be refreshing, it does leave the EP without a strong sense of cohesiveness beyond Sampha's propensity for rich chord progressions and—of course—the familiar sound of his dense harmonic vocal layers. The record's demo-like sketches, "Demons" and "Hesitant Oath," are odd, albeit brief, sidesteps, while the piano-kissed swirl of "Beneath the Tree" and almost entirely acapella closer "Can't Get Close" are pleasant, ornate productions that nonetheless feel lacking.
Where Dual truly hits its stride is on "Without" and "Indecision," two songs that effortlessly tap into the sort of potent honesty and irresistible melodic structures which made songs like SBTRKT's "Hold On" and Sampha's Jessie Ware collaboration, "Valentine," such memorable listens. Still, these productions are entirely Sampha's own, with the former taking shape as a percussion-filled excursion into woozy R&B, and the latter as a drumless, piano-drenched ode to correcting mistakes—a song which remains buoyant thanks to the bouncing rhythm of its soulful chords and the EP's most entrancing refrain, "Let it all work out."
Dual may have its hiccups, but there's little question that Sampha's talents are indeed worthwhile, even when they're being presented on their own.