Sudan Archives

Athena

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    8
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AllMusic Review by

Nothing about Sudan Archives and Sink, Brittney Parks' self-written and self-produced Stones Throw EPs, sounded underdeveloped or uncertain. That they were filled with tunes akin to repeated epigrams and transportive moodscapes -- instead of traditionally-structured songs -- seemed like a deliberate artistic choice, not a deficiency. It's only after being weighed against the LP follow-up Athena that they come across as unripe. The previously solitary Parks opted here to work with a crew including James R. McCall IV, Will Archer, Rodaidh McDonald, Paul White, and Catherine Parks (her sister) among the dozen or so fellow producers and songwriters. The result is her freest, richest, most accomplished work. In a way, the naked image of the artist on the cover undersells her artistry; a mike, a pen, and a pad belong beside her just as much as her raised violin. Parks' strings do slice through and spring across the rhythms, and are sometimes plucked to hypnotic effect, in each method distinguishing the album from any other recording that can be loosely classified as alternative R&B (or the artist's own tag, fiddle funk). Just as appreciable is a newfound directness to Parks' lyrics and a clear lilt to her voice, especially when it comes to "Down on Me" and "Green Eyes," a pair of torrid slow jams, and "Pelicans in the Summer," a pulsing/snaking song of deep affection. Other standouts transmit positive self-image and emotional support and fortitude on communal and one-on-one levels. All the added instrumental layering and effects -- wriggling synthesizers, buzzing basslines, ricocheting percussion, apparition-like vocal processing, and suchlike -- are nuanced, not once getting in the way of a musician who can put forth an affecting message with just her voice and violin.

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