London-native Sampha Sisay’s debut EP is the sound of absence. We can strive for solitude, though it seldom comes. Even our quietest moments are surrounded by the cacophony of thoughts in our head, a rumbling of our stomach, the maddening tick-tock of a clock, or any host of foreign invaders looking to quash our solitude. Countless nights I’ve found myself pursing peace; a pursuit quickly traded for a chance to chase circles in my head. Sampha’s all-too-brief EP manages an increasingly rare feat of decompressing and looking inward for answers.
Lyrically, Dual focuses on all the avatars of absence. Proper opener “Beneath the Tree” leaves Sampha waiting for a hidden monster’s removal “I wish he’d pack all his bags and go.” Lacking any of his own magic-making, he pleads to an unseen entity “don’t fail me now, I need your wishes,” over a hazy concoction of: muted drum beats, twitching maracas, chorded pianos, and soft “anvil” strikes. Wish fulfillment comes when Sampha “suppresses the sounds”, and finds some semblance of peace. The stereo-panning pings and drum machine pops of “Without” run-together on a palette with flesh-and-blood drum playing to paint a hyper-realist work of the void. Towering mountains of Sampha’s mind fail to materialize in the real world, while he chases love; never finding it. Again Sampha attempts to retreat into the safety of his mind, but only manages to patiently wait in another realm. Here absence comes through circumstance, not choice.
“Indecision” is the most ascetic of these minor-key statements, a gut-wrenching piano “ballad” by way of post-dubstep that accepts the slings and arrows targeting us. Despite the lyrical resignation, Sampha’s voice rises above a whisper by the bridge; putting everything into his plea to “let it all work out.” In my experience, I can recall reducing life’s daily perils into a tangible proposition, that if the all problems could just see themselves to a conclusion, all would be right. “Indecision” reminds us our answers often “don’t hear their calls”, and our desires for the right life or relationship can disappear before they fully form.
Closer “Can’t Get Close” concerns a more corporeal absence, in this case the death of Sisay’s father at the age of nine. A phalanx of vocals hardly mask Sampha’s pain as he wishes for his father to hear his cries. “All I want is more”, he simply begs to a fatherly spirit. It’s a request that falls on deaf ears, as the choir quietly folds up near the song’s conclusion. Serenity arrives, after being preceded by ugliness. The “flood of noise” on “Indecision” has crested into a tiny wave of longing, and finally stillness out on the water. Dual is absence in the flesh, the “sound of silence,” and it’s deafening.
Dual is out now via Young Turks.