Ballads and Bangers: Sudan Archives’ Athena

Playful pizzicato erupts from the first note. A fiery voice joins in, exclaiming, “I realized I lost my mind / When I was a little girl / I thought I could rule the world.” Kick drums bump through, paving the way for gnarly 808 bass lines as Sudan Archives — the pseudonym of singer-songwriter Brittney Denise Parks — sings, lamenting lost love. The song expands into a symphonically rich soundscape, layered with endless strings, percussion, and voice. “Did You Know,” the first track from Sudan Archives’ new album Athena, perfectly encapsulates her world of questions and possibilities.

This new album, aptly named after the Greek goddess of wisdom and courage, crosses genre and bridges sonic worlds. Brilliant and poppy songs like “Confession” flow into tenacious off-kilter elegies, like “Black Vivaldi Sonata.” The title alludes to the Baroque Italian composer and violinist, reinterpreting his 17th-century style into a modern idiom. She plays an electric violin over West African-inspired rhythms, even including the popular drum sounds of trap music. Some songs pay tribute to Parks’ Sudanese heritage with spectacular violin strumming — like a banjo. Parks grew up practicing classical violin in elementary school in Cincinnati. After she heard the traditional fiddle styles of Sudan and the Yoruba people, she grew intrigued by the overlap between Irish jig and West African rhythms. As a teenager, she experimented, mixing violin with electronic beats.

While none of the songs feature as left-field and wacky beats and percussion as her 2017 eponymous EP (“Time” is a personal favorite), this new album features her most mature songwriting. Her new love songs feature her most intimate lyrics, tinged with a breath of hope and optimism. In “Iceland Moss,” she sings about a breakup: “I love you soft like Iceland moss / I hold you close then I saw you off.” Songs like “Green Eyes” contain her most beautiful harmonies yet, reminiscent of lush impressionist composers. In “Stuck,” bright violin shines atop gritty, twisted bass and broken snares. After two EPs released by LA label Stones Throw Records, Athena — her first full-length studio album — is her most daring, concise, best-produced work yet. Her music represents a perfect integration of violin into pop, a typically tricky line to toe. This rich album proudly boasts both ballads and bangers. 

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