Sudan Archives
Athena
Stones Throw Records

Sudan Archives is Brittney Denise Parks, a Cincinnati native who is now based in Los Angeles.  Apparently her nickname, Sudan, comes from her dissatisfaction with her birth name.  And the ‘Archives’ bit comes from her love of crate-digging for good music in fine DJ/producer fashion.  She is a violinist by training, largely self-taught, and a vocalist.  She is also a beat-maker, inspired by the beats scene back in the ‘Natti.  She is also brilliant.  Athena is an epically wonderful album.

She has released a couple of eps in the past few years, the self-titled one in 2017 and then Sink last year.  They gave a hint of an artist trying to find her feet.  Athena announces she is here.

To call this R&B is a bit of a misnomer, really, as she is more a genre-hopper. Athena is based in the low-end theory.  Like I said, she is a beat-maker, and a very good one at that.  It seems to me that she constructs her songs around the beat and the boom-bap, most of the songs are then flourished with her violin, or a larger string session, other instrumentation, and her voice, as well as her collection of collaborators, which include the likes of Danny Brown’s main man, Paul White, Rodaidh McDonald (who has worked with the likes of xx and Sampha) and Wilma Archer (who has worked with Nilufer Yanya, amongst others) and the Cincinnati-based rapper, D-Eight.  Sometimes her violin-playing sounds distinctly Celtic, other times it sounds vaguely African, and still other times it sounds classical.

Athena begins with a song she co-wrote with her sister when she was a teenager and her step-father was trying to mould the sisters into a teeny-bop group, ‘Did You Know?’ with her singing in a hushed voice that ‘When I was a little girl/I thought I could rule the world’.  The album takes off from there, filled with ear-worms and hooks.  The first single is ‘Confessions’, which is also the second track, which begins with her violin, then a string section, over a thudding bass, before the song strips away to the beat, African bones percussion, and her violin in a cheery riff.  She sings of her successes and failures and learning to trust herself, before singing ‘There is a place I call home/But it is not where I am welcome/And if I saw the angels/Why is my present so painful?’  I can feel her hurt when she sings that.  But the track itself is catchy and the beat follows her up and down.  It is also the manner of how the violin and her voice weave together on this track, becoming almost one through the chorus.

‘Down on Me’ is not exactly a song about that, so much as it is a song about sex, cleverly structured around a beat and a muted set of violin.  ‘Stuck’ begins with her violin and then this phat blaxploitation-era bass line arrives before a drum loop enters as the violin soars above.  In this pseudo-trip hop, Parks sings overtop, her vocals deeply buried in the mix.  This song is all of 68 seconds long and serves to a degree as a palette-cleanser before we hit ‘Limitless,’ where she advises a friend on her shitty taste in men over a pulsating beat.

This is a truly excellent album, and one that has been in high rotation around The Typescript offices of late.  Go check it out.