SAMPHA, Process

(Young Turks): 4 STARS

Drake’s onetime keyboardist emerges from sideman anonymity with an electronically layered, R&B-dressed, full-length singer-songwriter set that poetically explores the caves of loss. His mother’s the angelic ghost haunting “Incomplete Kisses,” “What Shouldn’t I Be?” and the transcendent “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” (“in my mother’s home”); his fears are the tormentors hounding “Blood on Me,” one of only a few rhythmically urgent tracks. (The hooky “Under” is another.) The South Londoner makes quiet magnetic, pulling listeners into his grief and confusion as his emotionally raw falsetto floats above piano, synthesizers, reverb, trap drums and hip-hop beats. Despite thick sonic textures, the vibe is spare and deeply soulful.


Defying categorization somewhere between vocal jazz, cabaret and ambient pop, this German-born New York singer and composer upends expectations and demonstrates sublime control while reinventing Stephen Sondheim’s normally jaunty “Comedy Tonight” as a brooding, introspective lament and adding smooth, wordless vocalese to his deft combo’s mostly subdued instrumentals. They occasionally build to rhythmically dramatic crescendos, but the album’s dominated by sweeter subtleties (“Semblance,” “To Be Shown to Monks at a Certain Temple”), and is stronger for it. At the Broad Stage in Santa Monica Monday, Feb. 13.

TINARIWEN, Elwan (Anti/Epitaph): 4 STARS

With Mali continually destabilized by insurgents, the globetrotting Saharan rockers again decamped to Joshua Tree (plus Paris and southern Morocco) to record their seventh and most compositionally structured studio album. Guest Mark Lanegan’s earthy timbre helps ground “Nànnuflày”; like the hypnotically yearning “Ténéré Tàqqàl” (“The strongest impose their will/ And leave the weakest behind”) and trance-like “Nizzagh Ijbal,” home seems a mirage just beyond its rolling desert blues grooves. “Ittus” voices a determined exile’s goals (“It is the unity of our nation/ And to carry our standard high”), as guitar notes hover in the air like brooding questions.

ERIC KUFS, Sense and Nonsense in Psychology, Part One (self-released): 3.5 STARS

Less rustic than his mid-2000’s work with Common Rotation, Kufs’ latest EP skillfully blends acoustic warmth with R&B grooves and melodic, uplifting songwriting. An engaging musician who regularly plays the Monrovia-Montrose-Santa Monica farmers market circuit, Kufs’ voice commands attention onstage with smooth, soulful style — he owes more than a small debt to Van Morrison — and is well suited for the swoony old-school feel of “Keep Tryin,” the funky “Committed” and horn-peppered “Same War.” He’s a rare performer who inspires “Who IS that?” responses — worth seeking out.