Reviews

Sudan Archives
Athena

(Stones Throw)

7/10

The violin probably isn’t the instrument you first associate with hip-hop-infused RnB, or indeed with pop music in general, but that hasn’t stopped Cincinnati-born, LA-based Sudan Archives (Brittney Parks to her mum) anchoring her debut album around it. But this isn’t the sort of polite, precise violin playing cultivated by music conservatories – indeed, it’s almost the opposite: Parks is self-taught, by ear, from recordings of northeast African desert-folk fiddle, all visceral and feral scraping, plucks and expressive swoops, full of playing techniques that would get you a fail in your Grade 3.

Crucially, though, despite being unexpected, it’s a juxtaposition that works. On ‘Down On Me’, delicate plucked strings offset low-end throbs of synth bass, Parks slipping her sweetly sing-song, yearning vocal gracefully in between. Equally, on opener ‘Did Ya Know’, a pleasingly unvarnished violin riff complements the minimalist beats, leaving something that feels simultaneously accomplished and unshowy.

Elsewhere, however, Parks isn’t afraid to leave the violin and write a straight-up pop melody: ‘Iceland Moss’ has the kind of chorus that breaks into your internal jukebox, changes the locks and declares unilateral ownership after a single listen, and the same goes for ‘Limitless’, a bittersweet 3-minute epic that’s set around infectiously moreish rising chords.

Athena isn’t a perfect album by any stretch – there’s frequently too much haze and lack of definition to the songs, and Parks’ clear compositional skill often seems undermined by her lack of self-confidence in delivery, leaving several tracks tantalisingly just short of greatness. Two forty-second vignettes, too, suggest that Parks has perhaps more ambition for the abstract than the rest of the album lets on. However, it’s a record unusual enough to be increasingly intriguing over repeated listens as you try and unpick quite what Parks is trying to say, and – perhaps the more pertinent question here – the unique way she’s trying to say it. And for now, that feels enough: it leaves Athena as a marker, a sort of statement of intent and demonstration of pleasingly original thinking, and a warning of what might be yet to come. 

Support Loud And Quiet from £3 per month and we'll post you our next 9 magazines

As all of us are constantly reminded, it’s getting harder for independent publishers to stay in business, which applies to Loud And Quiet more now than ever, 14 years after we first started printing a magazine that we’ve always given away for free.

Having thought about the best way to support our running costs (the printing and distribution fees, the podcast and production costs etc.) we’d like to ask our readers who really enjoy what we do to subscribe to our next 9 issues over the next 12 months. The cheapest we can afford to do this for works out at £3 per month for UK subscribers, charged yearly.

If that seems like a bit of a punt, you can pay-as-you-go for £4 per month and cancel any time you like. European and world plans are available too, at the lowest rate we can afford.

It’s not just a donation – you’ll receive a physical copy of our magazine through your door and some extra perks detailed on our subscribe page. Digital subscriptions are available worldwide for £15 per year. We hope you consider this a good deal and the best way to keep Loud And Quiet in your life without its content, independence or existence suffering.