Raquel Dalarossa

REVIEW: Sudan Archives - Sink

sudan.jpg

Raquel Dalarossa

At 17, Brittney Parks declared that she didn’t like her first name. In response, her mother granted her a new one: Sudan. Today, the woman once known as Brittney writes, records, and produces her own music as Sudan Archives, a project that’s as self-determining and uncontainable as its creator. On her latest EP, Sink, she crystallizes her varied influences and inspirations—minimalist R&B, North African folk, electronic pop—into something entirely her own.

At this point, Sink—released May 25th via Stones Throw Records—has already been making the rounds through every music blog and tastemaker’s playlist, and that’s no surprise for an EP that was clearly intended to make waves. From its bold cover art to its declarative lead single “Nont for Sale,” Sink is proof that Sudan Archives has truly arrived.

The single’s lyrics should spell it out for you: “This is my light, don’t block the sun … This is my time, don’t waste it up,” she announces over a bed of plucked strings and a trap beat. Her violin—a self-taught instrument—is a centerpiece in most of the tracks, juxtaposing electronic elements to create something of a cross between SBTRKT and Andrew Bird. But her own references are much farther reaching; on her Instagram, Sudan Archives often praises the Sudanese multi-instrumentalist Asim Gorashi, for example.

You can hear her more experimental folk leanings come out in the rich textures of tracks like “Pay Attention” and “Escape.” The former is warmly hued and grounding, like a tribal chant laced with the sounds of the outdoors, while the latter is faster paced, with watery, splashy sounds for percussion, creating the feeling of a rushing river. The vocal treatment often adds just the right kind of dimension to each track; she’s at times slinky (as in “Mind Control”), and at other times almost childish. In “Beautiful Mistake” her voice softens as she sings “I’m a beautiful mistake … I don’t give a fuck / I know that you don’t like it when I say that / But baby do you feel me?”

The confidence she exudes in each of these six tracks is a constant highlight, and that’s saying something for an EP full of standout details. One thing is for sure: Sudan Archives is an artist worth keeping an eye on, lest she take over the world.

REVIEW: Sir E.U + Tony Kill - African-American Psycho

Raquel Dalarossa

I first heard DC rapper Sir E.U on Rob Stokes’ album from earlier this year. That release, a collection of soul and R&B-influenced indie rock, featured the rapper in two songs and, incidentally, was co-produced by Tony Kill. Perhaps that was the project that brought the two artists together, a stroke of serendipity that would lead to the creation and release of their ten-track album, African-American Psycho.

Whatever the circumstances that originally forged this union, the meeting of their minds feels momentous for both the rapper and the beat maker. No doubt they’ve individually dabbled in the experimental before—Sir E.U, for example, recently put on a 25-hour performance—but this feels notably different from any of their previously released material. African-American Psycho plays like a loose concept album, and together, Sir E.U and Tony Kill confidently push boundaries within and outside themselves, without much care for whether you’ll be able to follow them into their new territory.

Truly, the record feels like a psychotic breakdown, mixing electronic production with bleak beats that create an at times subtle, at others overt, but almost always present feeling of distress. The distorted, overblown treatment on everything from vocals to percussion makes it hard to understand the discrete elements in each song, which is part of the trick; tracks like “Let Me Tell You About My Dog” and “No Sex” are loud, overbearing, and confusing. But the production also lends itself to the frantic, almost manic tone of the album as a whole.

Sir E.U’s vocals mostly serve the beats, but his virtuosic ability to mold his own voice and inject tricky emotions into it—or erase all emotion from it—make him a standout. In “Ultra,” his erratic mumbling adds a strangely smothering effect to the propulsive beat, while in “Lower Self (For Freaks Only),” his voice sits in a low, sinister register uncomfortably close to the ear, and he takes shallow gasps for breath as though his lungs are being slowly crushed. In “No Tax,” which features LeDroit and Nappy Nappa, unintelligible vocals are layered atop one another to the point that it feels schizophrenic.

Even the most danceable track, "Cha," feels dense and busy, and Sir E.U seems to lose steam by the end of it, his vocals fading into the background. Hearing this, combined with their contributions to the Rob Stokes album, makes African-American Psycho feel like even more of a feat. It seems these two can do pretty much any genre they please, and it's hard to say where their ideas will take them next.

REVIEW: Bernice - Puff LP: In the air without a shape

a4112600636_10.jpg

Raquel Dalarossa

When we listen to music, we typically respond emotionally. We talk about how it feels to listen to a certain song—or, perhaps more accurately, how the sounds communicate those feelings to us. 

Bernice, on the other hand, create music that communicates on an entirely different sensory level. It travels through space, it seems to have dimension and body, and it's much more easily imagined or seen than it is felt. The Toronto-based band, led by songwriter and vocalist Robin Dann, treat sounds like shapes and songs like spatial playgrounds. In their new Puff LP (subtitled In the air without a shape), out today via Arts & Crafts, they take a minimalist approach to their sound design that draws attention to the negative space, creating a boundless and playful atmosphere for us to revel in.

Many of the songs on this seven-track album (yes, they are minimalists in the volume of their output, too) have been around for a while—“Puff” was, after all, originally the name of an EP released nearly a year ago. But there are new additions as well as new imaginings of older work, proving that the experimental group are always up to try things just a little differently. Where previously, on the EP, the songs were largely produced by Shawn Everett (best known for his Grammy-award winning work on Alabama Shakes' Sound & Color), now we find Bernice themselves at the helm, alongside engineer Matt Smith. The resulting differences are striking, and very telling of the band's tastes.

Though they've been compared to Sade in the past, their R&B leanings are on full display in this album with a re-recorded version of the smooth, reverberating "David" and richly sensual "One Garden." But things get especially interesting when they pick up the pace just a little, as in the LP's single "Glue." It juxtaposes soulful interludes with catchy, electronic-leaning verses, similar to how the lyrics juxtapose Dann with the person she's addressing: "I am rubber and you are glue." Another favorite of mine is "St. Lucia," which has been cast in an entirely new light for this release. Doing away with the song's dense, industrial character when it appeared on the Puff EP, Bernice transform it into something much lighter on its feet yet simultaneously more ominous.

There's something at once aqueous and stark about the album as a whole. It can feel like being submerged at the deepest depths of the ocean, or floating through the vacuum of space. Closing song "Boat" showcases this effect perfectly. An endearing vocal melody sits front and center, while a cacophony of ornamental sounds buzz by or float softly beside us, creating a sort of aural parallax effect. You get the sense that our attention is always exactly where the band wants it to be, which goes to show how well constructed Puff really is.

REVIEW: Good Morning - Prize // Reward

goodmorning.jpg

Raquel Dalarossa

Australian duo Good Morning, made up of Stefan Blair and Liam Parsons, have been releasing DIY tapes together since 2014, even getting so far as to re-issue their earlier releases, Glory and long-held fan favorite Shawcross. But even so, with just two EPs and a few other singles out, it may be surprising to learn that they’ve amounted over 11 million Spotify plays for their most popular song, “Warned You.” That is, of course, if you haven’t actually heard them yet.

Good Morning’s music exudes a cozy and charming warmth through every ridiculously catchy guitar riff. Known for experimenting with their recording equipment, techniques, and locations, the band seem to approach their work as true craftsmen, with perhaps a touch of perfectionism. That might explain the slow build up to their overdue debut full-length release, the ten track-long Prize // Rewardthe album’s Bandcamp page reads, “We recorded it for a while (maybe longer than we should have).” But taking one’s time and laying low all the while is a luxury that may well be on its way out for this group; Good Morning seem bound for the same hype that, for example, propelled the band Whitney to indie stardom.

And that’s for good reason. On Prize // Reward, the twosome’s talent for well-written guitar hooks, paired with a certain insouciant flair, is on full display. With songs like “Mirror Freak” and “$10,” their hypnotic guitar lines and vocals tinged with an ever-so-slight twang are endlessly enjoyable. Such an approach places them smack in the lineage of “slacker” rock a la Parquet Courts and Pavement before them, but Good Morning flex these elements in all sorts of ways.

Languid, reverb-y vocals sometimes recall Mac Demarco, especially in a track like “Who’s to Blame,” while a lower-fi framing can bring to mind the songwriting of Robert Pollard, as in “After You.” In the latter, they create a cozy and soft aural texture that sounds like wrapping yourself in a warm blanket, but a horn-assisted outro keeps it from getting at all somnolent.

Those kinds of unexpected details allow their music to stretch far beyond the slacker rock label (or any label for that matter). See “For a Little While,” which indulges in a long instrumental interlude that feels like a sort of rumination, with an inquisitive, unresolving bassline, anxious saxophone solos (courtesy of Glenn Blair), and a repetitious piano motif that keeps you in place for perhaps longer than you’d like. It feels both idle and restless.

When a band manages so deftly to meld the original with the familiar, it strikes the magical balance of feeling soul-grabbing at first listen, and rewarding with every return. There’s no doubt good things are in store for Good Morning.

REVIEW: Pompey - More is Less

a3758205697_10.jpg

Raquel Dalarossa

Pompey is a singer-songwriter, otherwise known only as "Alex KS," who has been releasing music under the moniker since early 2016. With six EPs under his belt, one would think he might be overdue to release a full-length by now, but, as the title of his latest release appropriately indicates, sometimes it's best to keep things simple.

More is Less is a new five-track collection that adds to a growing catalog of thoughtful and thoughtfully crafted bedroom pop. Recorded with the help of Thanya Iyer and Daniel Gelinas, at the latter's own studio, it's a far cry from Pompey's first release (which was recorded on an iPhone), but feels just as intimate. The vocals sound, consistently, very close to the ear, and the instrumentation is minimal—a grungy electric guitar is paired with playful synths and supporting percussion.

The approach results in a faithful emphasis on the singer's softly spoken, vulnerable vocals and unassuming lyrics. Opening song "Fractions" is, as we said in our premiere a few months back, "refreshingly straightforward and relatable." As it turns out, much of the EP hews to that description. In "Cincihappy," we get a glimpse into one of those rare moments where faith in one’s self and faith in the universe collide, as he sings "I'm pretty happy / Everything seems fine / I'm not in a rush / To figure it out." Right after that, though, we hear a much more reticent and run-down version of the singer as he confides, "Sometimes all I want to do is lay in bed and watch Friends on Netflix."

The centerpiece, though, is the nearly seven minute-long "Give In." Showcasing how mindsets and moods can turn in a moment, the song starts out with an anxious, droning intro that feels a bit like being stuck in a loop of self-conscious thoughts; then, it slows down dramatically, like a self-imposed intervention in which we take a deep breath and "take it one step at a time." Finally, the track picks up some confidence and pace midway through, but Pompey struggles to commit to that confidence, wavering between the mantras “I’m not giving up” and “I’m not good enough.”

Pompey's greatest talent is turning the prosaic into poetry. The simplicity of his writing is precisely what allows it to feel so recognizable and stirring. When all is said and done, he's right—more really would be less.