Sudan Archives

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Athena (2019) , 6/10
Natural Brown Prom Queen (2022), 7/10

Los Angeles' singer-songwriter and violinist Brittney Parks, aka Sudan Archives, a black Midwesterner with no ties to Sudan, crafted an original fusion of African and western music on the six-song EP Sudan Archives (2017): Paid is hypnotic electronic Afro-funk, the violin accompanies the African-tinged folk dance Come Meh Way and its staccato tones set in motion the dissonant and psychedelic Oatmeal. Her second EP, Sink (2018), contains the psychedelic hip-hop Sink, but the real attraction is her use of the violin. She's using the violin as a beat with more confidence. violino staccatos simulate a xylophone and propel the hypnotic Afro-folk chant Pay Attention, punctuate Nont For Sale, weave the mechanical ticking of Beautiful Mistake and tap along the ancestral lament Escape.

Athena (2019) lacks the impact of the EPs and moves towards more conventional formats, from the catchy pop-soul wallpaper of Limitless to the warm and jazzy Iceland Moss. One can still sense her experimental side in the quasi-orchestral soul-hop of Confessions and in the skittering and somnolent Honey, and the violin (and strings in general) is more prominent in the Bjork-ian meditation Down on Me. But overall the album marks a retreat.

The violin takes a back seat again and the shadow of FKA Twigs looms over the 18 songs of her sprawling second album Natural Brown Prom Queen (2022). The liquified disco beat of Home Maker that opens the album is misleading: the songs are far from so simple. The first salvo is NBPQ (Topless), whose hip-hop beat is so frenzied that it sounds Brazilian, whose melody suddenly surges into a soaring pop refrain, and whose beginning and ending are like jazzy interludes: it feels like a mini-suite. ChevyS10 toys with complex post-soul vocal harmonies and mutating beats. Flue is at least three songs in one. The rhythmic transition of TDLY (Homegrown Land) is no less elegant. The way to smoothly make a song change beat, melody and arrangement has become one of her specialties. The stylistic cross-pollination of the early days has been pushed to new dimensions: the fizzing Selfish Soul feels like a modern cross of jump-blues of the 1940s and bubblegum-pop of the 1960s; Loyal (EDD) evokes Canterbury jazz-rock of the 1970s with syncopated electronic beats. By comparison, the trap-soul ballad Ciara and the hushed OMG BRITT, with a "Caribbean" trap beat, sound trivial. Towards the end of the album the flow is bogged down by too many trivial songs. Freakalizer and Milk Me mainstream dance tunes, but the whole last five songs could have been omitted.

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