Posted in Album of the Month

AOTM | Sudan Archives | Natural Brown Prom Queen

… 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!

4 thoughts on “AOTM | Sudan Archives | Natural Brown Prom Queen

  1. Lovely write up Joey!

    I’m just as mad about this album as you are. I think it’s an absolute peach. Every time I play it, I get something new out of it, and actually, I’m not finding the length too much of a problem. I do sometimes start playing it at different parts, and I’d probably with the way you’ve divided up.

    I don’t want to repeat your already excellent points, so I might get into what I find so beguiling about this record. I think one of the things I love the most is that I feel like I’m spending time with someone who is really baring their soul on this record. The amount of conflicting emotions in these songs are extraordinary – she can be horny, needy, angry, philosophical, political, surreal and even quite silly. I don’t think I can remember the last time I listened to an album like this where I feel there’s almost no filter between me and the artist. It makes for such a rich, intense listen.

    Despite all that, the other thing that really keeps me coming back is the songwriting and the construction of the album. Considering the magpie way that she works, picking this and that from different producers and different beats, and the way you can even hear that within songs, where they move from one section to another, I think maybe the most astonishing thing is how well this all hangs together.

    I liked but didn’t love her last album, which I spent a bit of time with. That felt a bit cool and mannered. This feels like she’s totally thrown off those shackles and is going for it both barrels.

    There are so many influences running through this, but god it just sounds so original. It was funny that we were talking about Outkast the other day, because actually, they really come to mind – the stunning originality of their sound when they first hit the scene was so extraordinary, it felt like they made up the rules as they went along. This feels the same, and I’m really excited about where she’s going next.

    Fave songs? Ooh, so many. I mean OBVS Selfish Soul and NBPQ are incredible, but actually the songs that have really got under my skin are the musically more groovy, gentle ones – Ciara, Loyal, ChevyS10, FLUE. I could go on all day.

    Anyway, one of the albums of the year? Oh yes. Anyone who could turn the lyric ‘I just wanna get my titties out’ into an anthem of creative freedom, psychedelic exploration and the injustices of colourism gets my vote, all day, every day!

    1. The reason I started to work through the Outkast albums a week or so ago was that I heard loads of them in this album šŸ™‚ Iā€™m glad you got that too. Zero shackles. Zero fucks. Zero filter.

  2. Wow. These are two really great posts – the write up @misterstory and your response @davidhallison. So much said, so much I agree with, so many things to nod to, but not everything, as you’re probably not remotely surprised to find out.

    From the moment we all heard NBPQ (Topless) it was clear this was an artist you needed to take notice of. The song, its four-in-one melodic and stylistic genre-hopping, and then *that video*, which as much of a sensory overload as it is, marks out exactly the ground this artist inhabits in one four-minute tour de force. Brash, emotional, proud, anxious, bombastic, unique, vigorous, exposed, huge, sensitive…. it’s a maelstrom of, well, everything.

    I wondered how this may translate into an album, and on first listen (like similar genre-defying first-love, Genesis Owusu, my musical touchstone of the decade) it seemed to do everything all at once. Beguile me, confuse me, annoy me, blow me away, and leave me speechless. It was quite the first impression. But it didn’t quite hold up that momentum, but then wasn’t that just impossible anyway?

    I had (and still have some) reservations, things that have prevented me feeling the same way about this that perhaps David and Joey do but this never quite felt my sweetspot either, the old ‘wheelhouse’. There are some things to LOVE here though, so many, and its’ an album that’s opened itself up as I’ve got further to it, just as I’ve struggled to find the time I want to devote to something that needs so many listens to see it unfurl fully. First impressions, apart from NBPQ, were many: Selfish Soul’s enticing mix of colour, culture, brashness and vulnerability. Its Song Exploder was a joy, and I could listen to one for every track on the album. The opener, Home Maker, along with closer #513 were instant loves – in fact I’d wager than the opening pair and closing pair are arguably 4 of the strongest tracks on the album, showing real attention to sequencing and not letting things fall away at the end of what’s a long album.

    I also loved Loyal (EDD), with its UK garage intro, two-step stripped-back verse, then an explosion into a breakbeat monster evoking some great 90s trip-hop/breaks tracks but taking them to another level. And the r’n’b banger Freakaliser, that could be a lost Destiny’s Child track (but better, let’s be honest). There was so much to give at the start it was when I got into long, repeated listens that the struggle began.

    It wasn’t just OMG BRITT, which put me off so much at the start that I didn’t think I could get through the ‘middle 3rd’ of the album, to the point where I had a version of NBPQ which didn’t have that middle third in it (and was a mega 30 minute album all of its own). I just couldn’t devote enough time to it through a combination of work and home pressures and what felt like zero free time (because this is a headphones-only album, I couldn’t work to it, play in the car, at home….). So it’s taken me so long to get to the point where I’m finally apprecaiting it as it deserves.

    I went ‘full Joey’ – mixed up order, listening in blocks, I ever went on the longest run I’ve done in 4 years (7km!) to try and get most of it in recently. I walked and made notes. I read interviews and listened to podcasts. And it clicked. At least mostly. OMG I will never love, but it’s ok and I see why it’s there (it’s the Trap styling, I can and will never get on with it). But that middle third really unwrapped itself, and it’s a real work of art from an artist that deserves to “get into all the parties, Win all the Grammys”. Because this is an insane level of talent, even before you add in the violin – used to great effect but never overdone – and all the amazing touches, the tracks that have 2, 3, 4 different angles in it, that almost overwhelm you before you get time to sit with it all in all its mad glory.

    There’s such vulnerability and power alongside each other – as it’s been said, it feels so unfiltered at times – and so much to get into, even if it’s not my vibe, it’s pretty astounding. Hopping from classic soul to spiky r’n’b, through slow jams, garage, bass music, even house (in the multi-faceted ChevyS10) while talking about prejudice, colourism, sexuality, misogyny, mental health, and swathes of the rawest lyrics that I’ve heard in a while (Steve Lacy may even blush at some of them).

    I’m still not 100% sure if I want all of the album. Not just OMG, but maybe Copycat, or perhaps even Ciara, which is derivative in its first half then comes alive. But the album would be diminished, too.

    I can’t wait to talk about this, because my god, there’s SO much going on. Great choice, brother Joey.

  3. Very late to the party, there isn’t much I can add to this that hasn’t been touched on. Life seems to be non-stop at the moment and I have found myself spending the majority of weeks on trains, in planes and many miles in automobiles. One of the very few blessings of my calendar as of late as that I’ve had a lot of time to get stuck in and get my head around this album as there is SO MUCH to go at.

    I was talking about this album to one of my team the other day and I described her as a mixture of Beyonce, M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj. Her swagger is evident, and she gives so much on this album. Doubling down on Joey’s point, take some time to listen to some of the interviews she has done. She comes across much different that I would have thought. I got a bit obsessed on finding more about her. She is truly an interesting artist that seem to be only cracking the ice.

    The album in itself is a journey and perhaps too long, but I struggle to justify cutting any of the tracks. It being released on Stonethrow who have always given their artists room to breath to release the exceptional. Madlib, Anderson Pack, Aloe Black, JDilla, MF Doom.. the list goes on.

    ‘Selfish Soul’ may be one of my favourite tracks of the year, ‘Ciara’ has one of the best hooks I’ve heard in ages but ‘513’ does something for me that I can’t completely describe but it’s my favourite.

    There’s so much to go at with album. Ic an’t wait for our chat on it when we do the pod.

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