Album Review: Sudan Archives – Natural Brown Prom Queen

On her 18-track sophomore, Brittney Parks puts down her violin as she pulls together the worlds of hip hop, R&B spoken world and dance into her candid avant-pop.

Springing from pulsing Afrobeat to sleek R&B with a slide of her signature electronic violin, Brittney Parks’ dynamism as Sudan Archives has earned her an equally wide-ranging fan base willing to see her in sweaty nightclubs and festival fields alike.

On her second studio album, Natural Brown Prom Queen, Parks’ strokes become even broader while also feeling like her most refined and accomplished work. Where violin used to lead a song, as it did on her breakout ‘Come Meh Way’, here it takes more of a complimentary role, filling space and adding richness to the rest of the playful and unpredictable sonics, as on ‘Ciara’ and ‘Home Maker’.

Sudan Archives - Home Maker (Official Video)

Even the folk-fiddle opening of ‘TDLY (Homegrown Land)’ soon journeys from half-time hip hop to heady, warbled electronica. Elsewhere Parks traverses ambient spoken-word (‘Is This Real?’); retro synto-pop (‘Milk Me’); lava lamp neo-soul (‘Ciara’); straight-up trap (‘OMG BRITT’) and pulsing funk-house (‘Chevys10’).

An autobiographical thread keeps all of this together. “Let me tell y’all about this girl Sudan,” she raps on ‘NBPQ (Topless)’, “She had a great big heart and a real big smile/ Mama knocked on the door, it go rat-a-tat-tat/ She said, ‘My boyfriend think you can be a star'”, referring to her step-father’s failed attempts to form a pop duo out of Parks and her twin sister Stephanie. Later, on the interlude ‘Do Your Thing (Refreshing Springs)’, we hear a supportive phone call reassuring parks that “The other musicians are not playing by music either/ Just, you know, people just play by ear […] Get up there and do your thing.”

Sudan Archives - NBPQ (Topless) [Official Video]

Eclecticism seems to be Natural Brown‘s defining feature, but without seeming incoherent or unconsidered. Parks has a firm control throughout, often twisting or breaking down some of the more melodic moments just as we’re getting used to it, but also revealing a far more candid image of herself.

Sudan Archives plays Glasgow, London and Manchester in November – tickets are available here.

Natural Brown Prom Queen is out now on Stones Throw Records and is available to stream here.