Last November Ohio-raised singer and violinist Sudan Archives released her debut album Athena, a beautiful and heartfelt R&B record that combines loopy beats and lucid string music. Now, one year later, Athena is a chill pop album worth revisiting for its hypnotic musical landscapes and rich lyrical content.
Inspired by Sudanese fiddlers, Archives (real name Brittney Denise Parks) is an artist who crafts alluring tracks at every turn. Before Athena, Archives had released two EPs: 2017’s self-titled Sudan Archives and 2018’s Sink. Both excellent bodies of work, the two showcase Archives’ distinct sound and set the groundwork for the strength and complexity exhibited on her debut album.
In an interview with DailyBandcamp Archives shared her process explaining, “Usually, I start with plucks or something, or I’ll even manipulate the violin to sound like a drum…If you hit it a certain way on the bottom of the fingerboard, it starts to create a drumbeat that kind of sounds like a djembe. I’ll rattle the strings to create shaking textures, and I’ll just keep adding different textures and try to get as many sounds out of the violin as possible. Then I’ll add the electronic aspects like maybe an electronic bass line or some synths.”
The result of this work is a blend of strings and hip-hop, a mix of both modern and classic. On Athena, stand out track “Confessions” shows the sheer magnitude of what Sudan Archives can create. The violin that starts out as expansive and open becomes short and succinct, a steady backing for harmonies and beats to play off of. “There is a place that I call home but it’s not where I am welcome and if I saw all the angels why is my presence so painful?” she sings as her voice floats back and forth, mimicking the sound of the violin that leads the track. During “Green Eyes,” a darker electronic song, the violin is a more subdued part of the beat. On Athena, the versatility of both the artists and her instrument is on full display.
More than just technically impressive, Archives is a brilliant lyricist. Her work is full of poetic verses that share feelings of heartbreak, power, and longing. “What happened to your dreams? All you care about is things. Now you take all these things to cover up, it seems,” she sings on “Limitless” a track that explores the complex emotions of an unhealthy relationship. “Limitless at our fingertips, don’t sweat it, just get it. We’re too cool to admit it, all we have is the internet” she continues.
This past March, Archives performed for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series. During the performance, which was released online in June, Archives plays as a part of a string quartet. Enchanting the room as she sings and plucks strings, the stripped down set is just further proof that Sudan Archives is both a poetic lyricist and outstanding musical talent.
On “Nont for Sale,” her most popular track from the Sink EP, Archives proclaims “my strings propagate through space and time, here and there at the same time, hand dimensions and basic rhyme!” It’s the perfect explanation for the music Sudan Archives makes, all-encompassing sounds that fill both the head and heart with an unshakable sense of serenity.