Issue #86: Sudan Archives by Sudan Archives

October 9, 2017

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Sudan Archives by Sudan Archives
Released On July 14, 2017
Released By Stones Throw Records

This Week’s Selection Chosen By Melissa Koch

I think I have broken three cardinal rules of Off Your Radar by selecting Sudan Archives’ self-titled fifteen-minute EP that was released this year. Unlike my last selection, The Fiery Furnaces’ Rehearsing My Choir, which is a sprawling, talky album full of stories and characters, Sudan Archives is about feeling and expression. I chose this record initially because it is almost the anti-Fiery Furnaces, but also because I have become obsessed with music that isn’t straightforward, and instead conveys a mood or emotion.

Few 2017 records have hit me straight in the heart (it’s been a song year for me), so I constantly search for new music, scrolling through various lists of Spotify and reading reviews, which is how I found Sudan Archives. Combining African folk music, violin, and R&B with electronica seemed unusual to me, but I was drawn to the violin on “Come Meh Way” and Sudan’s sparsely used, lovely voice. The music is repetitive, like a lot of African folk, but almost haunting in the way it stays with you — I constantly found myself singing “if you want some oatmeal / I got you.” Further listens just made me fall in love with Sudan’s little touches, like the sounds of the water at the end of “Goldencity” and the way the violin is plucked in the first few bars of “Oatmeal.” Even at fifteen minutes, the EP is complete and coherent; the songs are not too long and not too short; and Sudan’s gift and skill as a songwriter is apparent.

Sudan Archives is beautifully, yet improvisationally, crafted — she creates an entire listening experience, often layering electronic loops with physical manipulations of her violin. (She rattles the strings and taps it to get the sounds she wants.) She says her lyrics are just what comes in her mind when she hears the recording. I was not surprised to read this, as her lyrics seem so natural and of the moment, and she feels the emotion of the music in the same way her listeners do.

While her music is intuitive, her approach to it is one of a researcher and student, which I greatly admire. After a group of fiddlers played her elementary school, she decided she wanted to play the violin, often teaching herself when music programs were not available to her. Born Brittney Denise Parks and thrown into the pop world as a teen, she decided she wasn’t really a Brittney, but was still interested in making music. Her mother gave her the name Sudan based on her interest in African culture, and she began researching the people and music of Sudan and felt a kinship with them. This really resonated with me — as I become interested in a topic, I find myself reading more and more about it until it forms a full-on obsession. Her music seems to be the end product of this, and measuring it by that approach is where you truly find her strength as an artist.

This approach also means that her music is deliberate, a fact she’s made clear in interviews. This is important because a lot of non-artists view art and music as something that’s based on bolt-of-lightning style inspirations. Sorry, that’s not reality. Those glammed up scenes from a biopic showing how groundbreaking art just happened? Yeah, that rarely happens. Artists have to set time aside to learn, work, and perfect their craft just like everyone else does. Those bolts of lightning may happen at some point in their career, but without that deliberate approach, how well will they receive that inspiration in music or art?

Well, if they’re Sudan Archives with a meticulous approach and boundless sound, then pretty damn well it seems. We will just have to wait for what comes next though, even if it gets harder and harder every time I run through this excellent EP.

Melissa Koch (@bunnycaper)
Mediocre Runner, Aspiring Celebrity DJ

Brittney Park. Cincinnati born. Sudan forged.

The beat drops relentlessly into the pool of your quiet. From the first moment, I’m in her world, one of incessant and complicated percussion, handclaps mingling with bells, drums played over electronic drumbeats. Lightened by her muted, unbelievably melodic and smooth voice combined with that gorgeously thoughtful violin, the music from Sudan Archives pulsates through the speakers, beginning when she wants, stopping the moment she’s done. Walking into a bar I didn’t know in New York City, in my late twenties, not sure what I was doing there, the dark mingling into a moody miasma of other people’s laughter and cigarettes, I felt at home with my disorientation. In those moments of newness, the first time you travel alone or kiss a stranger or accept a drag from a hand rolled cigarette behind a bar in a city you’ve never been in from a woman you’ve never seen, you have to accept the ride or be stubbornly stuck in what you know. A lover once whispered in my ear this is supposed to happen — stop fighting so you can float. Pulling apart her tapestry to point out homespun beats and lyrical interpretation wouldn’t dig the violin hook from “Come Meh Way” into your heart any deeper; stand at the top of the rock, your friends dizzyingly small in the river water below, and free fall down into this sound.

Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite

It’s amazing what a person can manage to cram into a release that’s less than 20 minutes long. Punk rockers tend to navigate that feat by playing short tracks at unbridled tempos. (See The Dolts’ Blood, Guts, and Pizza, from Issue 61.) Sudan Archives, born as Brittney Denise Parks, is no punk rocker. Yet, she finds her own way to pack up a six track debut with a mountain of sounds, textures, rhythms, and clever interplay between all of them, that makes her 2017 release feel outrageously thorough, despite being so fleeting. Sudan’s method of choice: Rhythmic, melodic, and lyrical looping. Right away of course, let’s dispel this idea that looping means there’s a minimal few number of ideas on the eponymous record, merely filling space via several overlaid switches and overdubs. Yes, there is repetition present but the cyclical nature of Sudan’s songs is an aspect of positive accent, not artistic apathy. Bells, hand tapping, clapping (organic, not the 808 kind), folky, almost fiddler-esque violin hooks, and just a dusting of electronic support with subtle beats and tone warping, swim together with Sudan’s voice to make experimental music that is inarguably uncommon but traceably familiar, thanks to the soul flavored vocals, a lo-fi sense of ad-libbed folk, and the stabilizing force of an electronic undercurrent. Plenty of modern touches are bequeathed to the six tracks — the vocals on “Goldencity” are given an openness with reverb and wide delay, as are some of the clicks and clacks in the percussion, making their fade feel like rain on a steel pipe. However, all is applied with delicacy and restraint so as not to make the end result suddenly sound like a dozen other polished soul inspired things you already know. The engineering on the self-titled adds a dimension of variation as well, with the sonic spacing on a track like “Wake Up” playing out in an utterly close-knit fashion. There, Sudan sounds like her vocals were captured in a small, heavily insulated booth and thereafter, barely adjusted. Peaks and valleys come and go throughout, as the music draws listener ears from one small detail to the next — vocal, plucked, tapped or otherwise — even if it doesn’t seem like the object of current largest focus should actually be the element at center spotlight. Beyond the multi-faceted character of this release, it should be noted that there’s a pile of fascinating back story to Sudan herself, which ties in directly with her identity — both former and current — and the intriguing potpourri of her music and recording styles. Listen when you have time but definitely make sure to read up on what made, and continues to make, Sudan tick.

Kira Grunenberg (@shadowmelody1)
Prolific Sonic Scribe & Unifier

The entire point of an EP is to make the listener say “I want more.” Well done, Sudan Archives. I want more. Albeit only fifteen minutes from start to finish, Sudan Archives is fifteen minutes of beautiful music that should be on everyone’s radar. As the resident “hip hop guy,” as soon as I saw that this was a Stones Throw release, I was intrigued. Intrigued because, for the most part, Stones Throw releases are usually right in line with my musical proclivities. I was also intrigued because the label has a knack for pulling excellent morsels of music from all over the world for their non-hip-hop offerings. The natural percussive groove of “Come Meh Way” is unlike anything else I’ve heard this year. The strings on this track are like butter on cornbread. “Goldencity” has all the middle-eastern, offbeat charm of my favorite Madlib productions; and because this is from Stones Throw, I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually produced the track. And then there’s “Oatmeal,” which on its own is worth the price of admission. The production here is flawless, featuring some clever string arrangements and menacing banjo plucks that I could easily hear trapped-out on any Kendrick Lamar album. Thank you for the EP. Now, where is the LP?!?

Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator

Click here to watch the traversing music video for “Come Meh Way.”

Showing off the beauty of Ghana, as well Sudan Archives’ flowing groove.

It’s simple, it’s groovy, it’s sweet, it’s honest, it’s new. Sudan Archives’s self-titled debut EP is primarily built on looped beats and backgrounds as Brittney Denise Perks builds on top of them with her violin and her wonderfully natural voice. “Come Meh Way” is the first full taste of all the elements that make Sudan Archives stand out, with its strong vocal harmonies, fiddle-y violin lines, and electronic-tinged percussive beat. What I love about these arrangements is how spacious they feel; as you listen, it’s almost like you can reach into the song and pick out each and every instrument and vocal with two fingers. An inherent danger in combining this kind of sound with the brevity of these tracks (only one song crosses the three minute mark) is that sometimes they feel more like loose sketches than full-fledged songs. But then there is the ambitious “Goldencity.” It has the most fleshed out production and is perhaps the best synthesis of Sudan Archives’s sound (it also ends with the sounds of waves, which I’m kind of a sucker for). And finally, the record ends with “Wake Up,” which is also built on a loop (guitar this time). However, Perks’s vocals are front and center with a beautiful melody, a welcome change from the harmonies previously emphasized throughout most of the record. This is clearly just the beginning for Sudan Archives, and from what I’ve heard (especially those last two tracks), I’m looking forward to the future.

David Munro (@david_c_munro)
Idiosyncratic Avant-Garde Wanderer

My middle school orchestra teacher was a no-nonsense kind of person, and one of her rules for the class can be summed up in two words: No portamento. If you dared pull a bow across a violin, viola, cello, or bass string while sliding a note up the neck… you’d wish you hadn’t. I guess I can’t blame her; an orchestra made up of preteens can sound brutal even on its best behavior. But there’s a unique joy in getting to know an instrument on your own terms, and that’s the sense of joy I hear on the Sudan Archives EP. The stylistic experimentation. The inventive arrangements. The short running time. It’s the sound of a singular artist on the path to unlocking something that makes the world seem bigger and more connected. I was actually reminded of the portamento prohibition over the weekend while watching this video of Sudan Archives interpreting Kendrick Lamar’s “King Kunta,” but you hear the technique almost right away on her EP’s second track, “Come Meh Way.” And while it’s just one way in which she shows her inventiveness with the violin, I think there’s something especially meaningful about gliding between notes — extracting the tonal infinity contained within stringed instruments that are unfettered by frets. It’s the perfect embodiment of how the possibilities in music are endless. Add in her facility with layering and arranging and her playful lyrical approach, and you get a sound that feels truly unbound.

Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds

Have you ever tried to listen to late ’90s R&B whilst simultaneously attending a shindig in a barn? Ah, good! Then you’re aware of Sudan Archives. I’m sure I’m not the first person to tell you this, but folk has definitely come back with a vengeance this decade, and not just good ‘ol Americana! That’s right, you can dig out and start to alter those flannel shirts my friends, because Sudan Archives is leading the charge with her self-titled EP. Now, let me tell you why this record is awesome. This EP is short, sweet, and full of attitude, showing off that Sudan Archives has mastered all the elements any artist could ever hope to achieve. First off, she’s tapping in to a genre that is still being explored. This is ideal — nothing is worse than to find yourself working on a song only to have a colleague tell you that it sounds just like some big-name artist’s new hit single. Furthermore, Sudan Archives is a masterful violinist with a knack for displaying her talent in perfect harmony with all the other elements present in her compositions. This may not sound like much at first glance, but believe me, developing a balance between being a fabulous musician and a ground-breaking songwriter can be a tricky line to walk. This is especially true with solo artists, but Sudan Archives glides effortlessly over obstacles that other artists simply cannot. Lastly, Sudan Archives is modern and relatable. So if you’re interested in something like Kendrick Lamar and Modest Mouse doing a genre jump collaboration with African influences and a strong female lead… well then I highly suggest you pick up this album.

Erin Calvert (@erinpcalvert)
Elder Goth In The Making

Effortlessly extraordinary and endlessly endearing.

As is the case for all my favorite OYR albums, I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this going into my first listen. It was a very short record, so I thought maybe it would be some fast, blistering punk, something like a seventeen song album that clocked in at just over 15 minutes. But this wasn’t that. This was something better. Deeper. Sudan Archives is a record full of moments. The first is on the very first song, “Paid,” where there’s a sound of what sounds like something being plugged into an amp. The vocals start right after that, so maybe the idea is that it is the microphone that Sudan Archives is singing through? I was listening to the album for the first time in my car and when that happened, I thought “Ok, I’m going to need to hear this through headphones.” The second moment that stands out to me is the violin part in the second track, “Come Meh Way.” It’s this infectious hook that makes the song one of my favorites on the album. My other favorite is “Oatmeal,” but let’s talk about “Time” for a second. It’s the shortest song on the album by nearly a minute, but Archives keeps reminding the listener, “All you wanted was time,” as if to say “And time is exactly what I won’t give you” in the most offhand kiss-off I’ve heard in a long time. And finally, let’s talk about “Oatmeal.” Here, Archives is quite a bit more accommodating. “Wake up / If you want some oatmeal / I got you.” The song starts with the sound of plucked strings that, to me, sounds like rain on a roof. So there’s this whole cozy, homey atmosphere to this song. I can almost smell the oatmeal and taste the brown sugar dissolving in it. This album is short and sweet, but endlessly listenable. That’s why it’s just great.

James Anderson (@unabashedjames)
Devoted Docent Of Musical Concepts

I’m a big fan of the genre I call Alien or Avant R&B, including people like FKA Twigs, Solange, Chloe X Halle, Ibeyi, Frank Ocean, Sampha, Kelela, and Moses Sumney, some of whom put out good to great albums in 2017. Keeping tabs on this corner of the music world meant that Sudan Archives was already on my radar and I’ve been digging her EP since it was released. Maybe because I listen to all that other stuff, her hypnotic blend of hip hop beats, violin loops and soulful vocals was not as envelope-pushing as some reviews led me to believe it would be. There is an appealing rawness that sets her apart though, and her studies of Sudanese music have also led to a slight “world music” vibe, which also makes her sound distinctive. “Come Meh Way” and “Goldencity” have both enlivened playlists this year and turned heads when played to friends. However, this debut EP is only 15 minutes long and a couple of the songs feel a little like sketches, which is why I keep her in the “ones to watch” file, the same place Sumney was three years ago, when he dropped the gorgeous Mid-City Island EP, rather than considering her “arrived,” where Sumney is now. I hope for more — much more — from her in the future.

Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore

There’s an interesting video of George Harrison’s son Dhani sitting around with George Martin and his son Niles, playing with some unused mixes of “Here Comes The Sun.” While fading different parts in and out, they come across a guitar solo that few have ever heard. It takes Dhani a few seconds to realize what he landed on, and when he does, you can see his expression switch from wistful nostalgia to wondrous discovery. It becomes more apparent in the minute that follows as he starts messing around to find more and stumbles upon on a beautiful complimentary part (played on bells maybe?). This infectious smile engulfs his face — he found something new and great about a song he’s probably heard a million times. I’ve been there. Maybe not with my own father’s music sitting around a control board like that, but there have been countless times I’ve put on an old favorite after a while and found something new, whether it be a pivotal vocal modulation or an entirely new instrument altogether. I imagine if I listen to Sudan Archives for a whole day, wait a year, and then do it again, my smile might just be as infectious as Dhani’s. There’s just so much packed into this EP, so much to discover. Give it a few listens and you may pick up on a few things — that percussive clap-back in “Come Meh Way” that seems to stretch the beat, the fuzz filter in the middle of “Oatmeal,” and the way “Goldencity” winds itself up to the conclusion. But there are also other things I don’t think I’ll be able to really comprehend until future listens down the road, like the relationship between voice and violin in “Wake Up” which seems to be more than its simple presentation, as well as that background sound montage in “Time” which is definitely doing something… even if it’s not 100% clear yet. Chalk this record up to one to be enjoyed today, loved tomorrow, and adored later on. I just wonder if I can bribe anyone to set me up with a control board like Dhani had in that video. God only knows what would await in her mixes if I started fading parts in and out.

Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart

Next Week’s Selection:
Distant Relatives by Nas & Damian Marley
Chosen By James Anderson

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Editor: Doug Nunnally

Contributors: James Anderson, Laura Burroughs, Erin Calvert, Catherine Dempsey, Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford, Dustin Gates, Kira Grunenberg, Davy Jones, Melissa Koch, David Munro, Drew Necci, & Jeremy Shatan

Logo By Matt Klimas


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