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Sudan Archives - Athena Music Album Reviews

The L.A.-based singer and violinist makes her boldest and most fully formed statement yet.

As the Greek myth goes, the goddess Athena sprang fully formed from Zeus’ forehead, wearing a suit of armor. Her purview included wisdom, the arts, wartime strategy, and cities, and she was revered as a model of righteousness and justice; her namesake city endured as a space for exploratory thought and bold ideas. The Ohio-born, Los Angeles-based Sudan Archives is the latest in a centuries-long parade of Athena enthusiasts, christening her first full-length album with the goddess’ name. The songs, her best yet, have the quality of revelation, and the album earns its namesake.


Between her 2017 self-titled EP and last year’s Sink EP, Brittney Parks—the woman behind Sudan Archives—had already exhibited palpable growth as a musician. She one-upped the looping charm of songs like “Come Meh Way” and “Paid” with the rippling lilt of “Nont for Sale” and “Escape.” Those songs now feel more like sketches against Athena. Parks keeps her toolkit of hip-hop beats, millennial R&B gloss, and self-taught fiddling inspired by Sudanese and Ghanaian traditions.

On Athena, she fuses them with even greater acuity, building songs that boast an impressive depth of field. The bass scoops lower, the grooves get deeper and funkier, and the layers of her violin parts give the illusion of a full orchestra. She shares producer credits on most of her songs, joined by Washed Out’s Ernest Greene, Scottish producer Rodaidh McDonald (the XX, King Krule, Sampha) and Paul White, a London-based producer whose credits include work with Open Mike Eagle and Danny Brown. Collectively, these big-deal producers never tip the scales too far in any direction. It’s a testament to Parks’ own vision that she can work with so many producers within a single album and emerge with her singular creative voice intact.

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Within her highly synthesized songs, Parks details sumptuous natural imagery in verdant metaphors (“Iceland Moss”), and in her parallels between a youthful relationship and the unorthodox grace of sea birds on “Pelicans in the Summer.” “Glorious” feels like a prime contender for crossover —a guest verse from rapper D-8 comes and goes without any serious impact, but the track builds a stronger case for her secret-weapon capabilities as a hip-hop collaborator.

It’s a rare thrill to be able to hear an artist making leaps and bounds in their work in such a short span of time, to follow along as their explorations get deeper and weirder. Having developed a sound so distinctly her own, Parks has liberated herself from any preset expectations of genre or style. She warns listeners as much on Athena opener “Did You Know,” where her reflections on childhood ambitions to rule the world are muddled by adult insecurities. Her resolution is promising within the context of the song as much as her whole catalog: “At the end of the day, I’mma get my way.”


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About Udara Madusanka

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