With Natural Brown Prom Queen, experimental pop fiddler Sudan Archives looks inward

When she filmed the music video for “OMG BRITT,” a trap anthem off of her new record, Natural Brown Prom Queen, Brittney Parks was determined to smash a violin on camera. Not just any violin, either: She wanted to destroy her very first instrument, the one on which she’d taught herself to play by ear in fourth grade. Parks, who performs as Sudan Archives, has made the violin a defining part of her aesthetic since her vibey, luscious self-titled debut EP in 2017. Her sound is just as indebted to the liberatory musicianship of West African and Sudanese fiddlers as it is to the DIY scene in her native Cincinnati. It was there that a teenage Parks resisted her stepfather’s attempts to manufacture a family pop duo from her and her sister. Instead, she broke curfew at underground raves. Eventually her rebelliousness got her kicked out of her family’s house, and at age 19 she winged it to Los Angeles, where she’s remained ever since, releasing her first two EPs and the 2019 album Athena. Natural Brown Prom Queen lurches in the direction of those late-night raves, bottling the effervescence and irreverence of being young and invincible. Despite Parks’s symbolic violin demolition, the instrument is still a key ingredient on the new album—a fiddle figure animates “TDLY (Homegrown Land),” for instance—but it’s mostly camouflaged, just one of many swatches in her band’s instrumental palette.

Natural Brown Prom Queen doesn’t just depart musically from Parks’s earlier records; it’s also her most confessional release yet, and her most vulnerable. A few tracks after the brooding ballad “Homesick,” the album ends with “#513” (the area code of Cincinnati and environs), in which Parks vows to go back to her hometown. But the repatriation seems more symbolic than literal: Natural Brown Prom Queen sounds like catharsis, its 18 tracks confronting the life she fled as a teen. On “NBPQ (Topless)” and “Selfish Soul,” Parks counsels her younger self through the anguish of trying to conform to white beauty standards; in “Selfish Soul” her violin playacts as a grungy guitar, in “NBPQ” as a tanbūra (a Sudanese cousin of the oud). Parks also implies that her path on the violin hasn’t always been easy. The interlude “Do Your Thing (Refreshing Springs)” uses dreamy keyboards as a backdrop for an old voice mail from her mother, who encourages her not to worry about being unable to read music. “The other musicians are not playing by music, either,” her mother says. “Get up there and do your thing.” Parks has ever since.

Sudan Archives Lulu Be opens. Wed 10/5, 8 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, $25, $22 in advance, 18+

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