… and the award for the best album title of 2022 goes to … Sudan Archives ‘Natural Brown Prom Queen’.
Sudan Archives, AKA Brittany Parks, is a 28 year old, musical force of nature from Cincinnati, Ohio but now based in LA. Natural Brown Prom Queen is her 2nd album and it’s getting significant and well deserved attention from the press, live audiences … and This Is Not Happening. This album is a rollercoaster ride, it’s wild, frenetic, original, chaotic, ridiculously high energy, high concept, totally individual, ambitious, and above all massive fun. It fuses Pop, R&B, Hip Hop, Dance, sounds of the 90s, early naughties, contemporary times … and perhaps even the future.
If you’ve not yet heard the album, have a listen here (other streaming platforms are available).
Two pods ago, David chose ‘Topless’, the first single off the album, as his selection for ‘Spin it or bin it’. I think we all ended up spinning it but we had an interesting discussion in getting there. Topless is a brave choice for the albums’ first single as it is so divisive, I can’t imagine anyone not having a pretty strong opinion about this track. I said something along the lines of ‘this is either the best or the worst track that anyone has chosen for Spin it or bin it’. Making your mind up about the track is a lot easier if you only listen to it, when you watch the video too, it’s close to sensory overload. Therefore, I’d recommend you first listen to the track here but you can also dive straight in to the video here …
There’s a lot going on isn’t there? While this track isn’t wholly representative of the album it does point you in the right direction.
The album is 18 tracks and 54 mins long. As Nolan has pointed out, this is pretty much standard Hip Hop / R&B album length these days. But also, this kind of length has caused problems before when we’re digesting previous albums of the month. It’s much easier to digest a tight 35-40 minute album if you’re tackling a new artist or something that’s not your natural musical tastes. Brother Guy, I’m thinking of you here. And the 54 mins of this album can hardly be described as ‘easy listening’. There is so much going on here that it asks quite a lot of the listener, even if this does fall into your natural wheel-house.
For me, the 18 tracks on the album fall into 3 different phases of the album. This is something that we’ve discussed quite a lot on Whats App and I am sure will be a central point of the pod. But here are the ‘phases’ as I hear the album.
Phase 1: Track 1 (Homemaker) to Track 8 (OMG Britt)
Phase 2: Track 9 (Chevy S10) to Track 13 (Do Your Thing)
Phase 3: Track 14 (Freakalizer) to Track 18 (#513)
With such a long album I often get interrupted when I listen and don’t get as many ‘all the way through’ runs with the album as I’d like. Therefore I tend to chop the album up and the above has begun to feel like a natural(ish) division. I don’t think for a second that Ms. Parks designed it like that but it’s the reality of my listening experience.
In short, the first 3rd contains all of the singles – Topless, Selfish Soul and OMG Britt. As with so many albums these days, it’s front loaded with the hook laden, immediate attention grabbing (perhaps not ‘radio friendly’) singles. Let’s take a quick minute to talk about Selfish Soul. This is a mega track. It’s got a similar attitude, vibe and bounce to ‘Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ and like that track is close to impossible to sit still to. But, it’s also weird AF. Or perhaps ‘wonky’ as Brother David would put it. It also touches on subject matter that I’ve never heard covered like this before.
As we always do, we love to share brilliant content from other blogs, websites and pods … I MASSIVELY encourage you to listen to the Song Exploder episode on this track which you can listen to here. It’s fascinating listening to Brittany talk about the recording process – her working alone in her home recording studio and sending the track to producers and remixers who do their thing, totally independently and send it back to her. She then picks and chooses what she likes and what she doesn’t. Whilst I am sure it’s not a unique approach its certainly not a common form of ‘collaboration’ that I’ve come across. However, you can definitely hear the hand of many creatives in this album … but their input seems to be moderated and modulated by Sudan Archives to create the final product that we hear and is totally hers.
One more track to call out from this first third … only cause you’re going to hear us speak about this so much more on the Pod is OMG Britt. David and I love it but Guy hates it with a passion I’m not sure I’ve seen before (sorry Nolan not sure what you think about it yet). Sudan Archives is at her spikiest and most aggressive on this track but for me, it’s a total banger.
So what about the 2nd and 3rd ‘phases’ of this album?
Phase 2 turns to more ambitious tracks of greater scope and scale. Chevy S10 is the perfect example. At over 6 minutes it’s the longest track on the album by some way. This song itself has as many phases as the album, all quite unique, equally ambitious and intriguing. This track reminds me of some of the longer, more experimental College Dropout Tracks in its complete ignorance of the rules that govern so much music in the Hip Hop / R&B genre. Also, I hear shades of Pyramids by Frank Ocean here too?
For me, the second phase contains some of the strongest tracks on the album, ChevyS10, Copycat and Flue are super strong tracks and TDLY is sparkling in it’s oddness and is great example of the violin playing that Sudan Archives has become famous for. This phase ends with the only skit on the album which I can take or leave but its only 50 seconds long and feels like it fits.
The final phase of the album doesn’t let up in it’s vast array of styles and genre influences on display. Freakalizer marries a lovely early 90’s beat with nu-soul early 2000’s vocals in a catchy, funky track with a bunch of vocal hooks. We then move to two, perfectly crafted slow jams (Homesick and Milk Me) before we move to the final two tracks, Yellow Brick Road and #513 that both remind me of late 90’s early naughties R&B and perhaps even Trip Hop influences (particularly #513) but alway with a contemporary twist or nod.
If you can’t tell, I think this album isn’t far off being perfect. I wouldn’t lose a single track and I don’t think I’d change anything about the sequencing. I love the massive list of influences that I can hear here. I love how they’re blended so well. I love the zero fucks given to genre rules and tropes. I am not sure if I’ve heard such a confident presentation of someone doing exactly what they want to do since ‘Smiling with no teeth’ by Genesis Owusu. I think I’d argue that Sudan Archives has achieved an album with a greater level of consistency. But I also appreciate that this is less accessible than ‘Smiling’ and I know for a fact that for one of us on the Pod, this album has been a struggle.
It should be an interesting discussion. Look out for the Pod episode dropping mid November wherever you get your podcasts!