Sudan Archives


With violin in hand, Sudan Archives' bold presence does not bow, finds Amanda Farah

No one calls her album Athena if she isn’t trying to convey the strength of women. Brittney Parks makes her strength in her guise of Sudan Archives immediately known. The singer and violinist brings presence and personality to her debut full length album, having carved a unique space for herself over two EPs in as many years. Parks has a knack for writing massive hooks that will dig straight into your brain. But where her EPs stubbornly wrapped tracks of jarring, syncopated beats around those massive tracks, Athena leans more towards R&B, and Parks takes advantage of the space of an LP to smooth out any previous idiosyncrasies.

Parks learned to play violin by ear as a child and her approach to the instrument shows a creativity unburdened by classical constricts. It’s apparent that she has absorbed the potential of the violin and fits it according to the song. Sometimes that means orchestral filler gets tucked under R&B grooves and sometimes the violin stands in for a guitar or ukulele, either played in pizzicato or strummed.

The violin is also the axis her influences turn on. While songs on Sudan Archives’ EPs sometimes ceded ground from the violin to straight electronics, Parks’ instrument of choice is consistent throughout Athena. It’s dominant on songs like ‘Confessions’ – which brings to mind the sharp, defining leads that John Cale played on his viola – and ‘Glorious,’ in which the strong West African-styled rhythm on the violin is underscored by a thudding, buzzing bass.

The presence of Parks’ voice is also a sign of the strength she commands. She knows how to layer her vocals, how to punctuate a phrase, how to restrain herself to great effect. Mid-album track ‘Iceland Moss’ is a good showcase for this range, as what is a mostly achingly sincere breakup song shifts to a playful, teasing outro.

Parks has made her sense of self and ability to maintain her identity central to her music. The violin, already an outlier as a lead instrument in popular music, is one aspect of that identity. Her assorted rhythmic influences are another. Lyrically, Parks drives home her self-possession, whether in relation to a love interest or a community or a friend who is losing her way. “I’m too unique to kneel,” she asserts on ‘Confessions.’ Sudan Archives is honest, she is vulnerable, but she does not bow, she does not break.

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