Sudan Archives Wears Her Crown Proudly on 'Natural Brown Prom Queen'

BY Dave MacIntyrePublished Sep 7, 2022

Brittney Parks is nothing if not a chameleon. Under the name Sudan Archives, the Cincinnati-bred, L.A.-based singer-songwriter-violinist has emerged as a genre-twisting, enigmatic and truly unique presence in modern music. It was obvious on her 2019 debut Athena that she seems equally at home making music for church shows or the club, and she drives this home even further on her sophomore record, Natural Brown Prom Queen. Rather than basing the album's concept around a singular fictional character, Parks's own life and roots act as its overarching themes — after all, they say people write best when they write about themselves. Across a whopping 18 tracks, we hear her showcasing the full extent of her musical range and stylistic reference points.

Throughout, we hear traces of R&B, hip hop, future bass, Aphex Twin-esque IDM, funk, disco, African rhythms, classical (looped, swirling string riffs are her musical bedrock once again) and full-on trap with booming 808s ("OMG BRITT"). She also has no qualms about taking those elements to bolder, more experimental places — making her even more difficult to categorize than she already was. Handclaps on "Selfish Soul," pianos on "Do Your Thing (Refreshing Springs)," skittering beats on "Loyal (EDD)," Auto-Tune on the sexually charged and highly danceable "Freakalizer," audible crowd noises on "Copycat" and dripping sensuality on a number of tracks ("Ciara," "FLUE," "Milk Me") add further doses of life and colour to the project. We also hear her future-forward style directly contrasted by callbacks to the past, as on "Chevy S10" and album closer "#513" (named after Cincinnati's area code), which interpolate Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" and the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Going Back to Cali" respectively.

However, Sudan Archives' ability to transcend genre and seamlessly shift the tone and vibe of her tunes shines brightest on tracks like opener and lead single "Home Maker," a decadent, nocturnal mix of neo soul, funk and house, its frantic beat switches never throwing the song off course. The album's title track immediately follows, and boasts jittery, handclap-heavy production, with her repeatedly telling listeners that she's "not average," while meditating on race ("Sometimes I think that if I was light-skinned, then I would get into all the parties / Win all the Grammys, make the boys happy") and her musical ambitions during childhood — not to mention launching into a full-on rap verse about her humble musical beginnings around the one-minute mark.

Natural Brown Prom Queen is somewhat overstuffed with both tracks and ideas, and the album's chaotic, sometimes hurried nature doesn't always work to its advantage. But even if censoring herself a bit more would've made for a more concise project, the album is nonetheless a captivating glimpse into Sudan Archives' artistic palette. She's capable of being vulnerable and insular while simultaneously sounding more daring and confident than ever. It's an album she's described as being "about discovering your worth, and manifesting a life around that understanding." Based on the end result, that manifesting is starting to pay off. 
(Stones Throw)

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