Cincinnati-based singer and instrumentalist Brittney Denise Parks, performing under the moniker Sudan Archives, has released her first full length album Athena, after a duo of buzzworthy EPs under her belt. As a young girl, she garnered a fascination with the violin, an instrument that serves as a bold presence in Parks’ music. Alongside her mastery of the violin, Parks discovered a love of West African folk. Fusing these elements with electro-RnB and an inventive use of loop pedals, Sudan Archives comes to the stage with a sound fully her own.
“Did You Know” opens with some freely plucked violin before transitioning into some thundering drum programming. With her silky delivery, Parks describes a sense of innocence before being faced with life’s harsh realities. “When I was a little girl, I thought I could rule the world.” The more processional “Confessions” sets classically inspired strings over lush and cinematic synth arrangements. She handles the track’s stark changes in dynamics with an impressive level of restraint and subtlety. “And if I saw all the angels, why is my presence painful?” she asks.
Sudan Archives draws influence from her peers such as FKA Twigs and Kelela most noticeably on “Black Vivaldi Sonata”. With murky, skittering electronics, Parks sucks the listener into a disorienting atmosphere, her hushed vocal performance buried for discovery.
“Down On Me” is a downtempo ballad. The soulful, skyward chorus rides over symphonic layers. On a song about momentary ecstasy with a partner, strings masterfully weave in with intricate electronic elements. This track is a prime example of how the much talked about violin element of Sudan Archives’ music is much more than just a gimmick.
The record is cohesively pieced together with three interludes. The first, “Ballet of the Unhatched Twins I”, is built around ominous static and flutters. “House of Open Tuning II” sees Parks putting simple string melodies against ambient soundscapes. Lastly, “Stuck” skirts past with a prominent jazzy bass.
Parks’ detached and icy cool performance skates over the club-ready beat of “Green Eyes”. Minor key arpeggios cut through the track’s overall brooding atmosphere. “Iceland Moss” is the funkiest track on the record. Locked-in bass riffs give the track its woozy grooves. It’s a bouncy kiss off – venom deceptively hidden in the highly danceable track. “You’re just like my father, you don’t know when to quit it. Admit it,” she snarls.
On “Coming Up”, a skeletal drum machine gives rest to Parks’ haunting, slightly distorted vocals. This is before the production erupts open during the noisy, buzzing chorus. “Glorious” is the album’s most pop forward cut. The infectious, spiralling string loops sound very Timbaland inspired. Rapper D-Eight provides a razor-sharp verse critiquing economic struggle and the pursuit of the almighty dollar.
On “Limitless”, a snappy snare pattern carries Parks’ feathery and heartfelt vocals. Ethereal harmonies in the chorus perfectly drift through the spacious arrangement. It’s a melancholic love anthem of release and resignation. “Gotta let you make the mistakes even though it gives me pain,” she expresses.
“Honey” is unfortunately the weakest moment on the record. Instrumentally, it is just not as distinct as the rest of the songs here. Her vocals seem more dialled-in here. Overall, it is just a bland and forgettable moment amongst an overall strong collection.
The low end comes in heavy in the hushed “Pelicans In The Summer”. Throughout the record, and here particularly, Parks showcases a knack for keeping things interesting with off-kilter rhythms and disorienting grooves. The song offers not just a strong conclusion for itself, but the album as a whole, as multiple layers of strings and keys build on top of each other for a satisfying climax.
Athena is a strong and confident first full-length effort for Sudan Archives. With her wide-reaching influences, Brittney Parks pieces together a distinct and exciting sound. While it still sounds like Parks’ best work is still to come, Athena is a stirring, emotive, and rich piece of work.