Sudan Archives​​​​​​​ is never afraid to shake things up while getting you shaking

SZA – SOS (St. Louis, MO)

As she proved already on CTRL, SZA is a master at the duality of delivering great vocal takes for singles and creating entire worlds on her own albums. Though the bloated runtime of this record does leave a couple weaker moments in the mix, the production here is a huge step forward but also the best glue for an album so big it would otherwise feel unwieldy. While it’s very distant from its title film’s aesthetic, “Kill Bill” sets the album on a dreamy course with deep bass, aquatic production, starry synths and a glossy hook from SZA that sends it into heavenly territory. The heavy haze of “Low” immediately drops you into a cloudy space with SZA guiding you through the smoke-like with finessed grooves and fine flow. Even the spacey, hovering direction of “Ghost in the Machine” shows a kind of fearlessness with her production on this record, able to merge her own sound with often morose Phoebe Bridgers’ sound for a miraculous listen. In its slow and punchy simplicity, “Shirt” has some of the most emotive vocals of the entire record, letting all that space leave SZA room to go all out and make the most of her amazing voice when the bass is virtually the only other hard-hitter on the track. With its zigzagging piano line and vocals to match, “Forgiveless” is a fun time, with SZA matching Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s attitude, and bringing out some of the strongest rhythmic performances of the whole record.  

Renée Landry – The Mountains (Single) (Ottawa)

Ethereal and haunting, Renée Landry’s latest single has a quality that feels as empowering as it does worrying. There’s so much self-deprecating lyricism on here, which Landry at least seems to use as a device to focus at turning point in her life, all while a more sinister sound lurks around her vocals. The massive sound of her harmonies suggests the majesty of the woods and mountains themselves in the bridges, giving that sort of nature-based mysticism that we find in great folk music. Landry’s vocals are delightfully raspy here, creating a ghost-like air into the mix and leaving you unsure if she’s defeated or just restful in this next phase of her life.

Sudan Archives –  Natural Brown Prom Queen (Los Angeles/Cincinnati, Ohio) 

Brittney Denise Parks so seamlessly constructs poppy tracks that it allows her a true freedom to play with her arrangements in ways some artists never even dare. With songs that go from bangers to experimental to explorations of vintage instrumentation, this record is never afraid to shake things up while getting you shaking. There’s such a great mood build on “Home Maker” that you’re utterly overtaken when the rest of the song kicks into its thick drums, strings and eerie synths that give Parks’ airy vocals the perfect textural contrast. This is swapped for immediately frantic and kinetic drum playing on “NBPQ (Topless)” where Parks rides the high-energy percussion and production to make you want to jump and shout, all before a wild shift to more traditional instrumental sections and arrangements that work in spite of how far they are from the rest of the song.  There’s a euphoric feeling in the echoing tones of “Selfish Soul” that let its slightly off-putting sound never truly betray the otherwise chipper hooks, and yet, it leaves a great sense of tension in the bones of the song where you feel like there’s something dangerous just ready to break through the smirks. “Yellow Brick Road” goes simple in its approach, letting the production of that cutting bass run and piano line keep you on your toes, while the rest of the track lulls you in with mix of beauty, calm and always present sense of fear. 

Stoby – Playing in Cement (Ottawa)

Mixing The Breeders, Pixies and Weezer-like charms, Stoby forces surfy tones through a much more frustrated edge for a wonderfully frustrated listen. The highs of the vocals make the fuzzy guitars and serene bass of “Giselle (You should know)” a wonderful sonic collision, and the explosiveness of the drums in the tracks backhalf really push the song over the top. The rush of “Seventeen” throws the band’s punk fury through a thick wall of noise, and lets the rumbling size of the drums give them all the more momentum to throw you against the wall and get dancing. There’s more infectious riffs and playful bass on “Bubble Gum,” though between that and the wailing guitar lines that are woven over every verse, there’s so many great choices on display that it’s hard to decide which is the most satisfying. In one of the few wholly dark-feeling moments of the record, “Match” sends things off with a malaise and uneasy flurry of guitars and drums, always clashing with each other as the song is at its most upset. 

Nilüfer Yanya – Painless (London, U.K.)

With a truly specific, lush sound, Nilüfer Yanya has found the beauty in acoustically capturing the industrialized life in its highs and lows. For a catchy but technically detailed record, Yanya makes more than pop, this is the sound of a place in rich complexity. There’s a dense quality to the sounds on “The Dealer” as it throws you into a thick beat and grimy guitars to let Yanya and the bass really dance as a vivid  duo. The colors are blown-out but nonetheless mesmerizing on “Shameless” as Yanya drenches us in a sunny sadness that feels like it’s aching on every level of its being.  One would almost feel things were too chaotic on “Stabilise” but Yanya rides that line of unhinged and dire with the best of them, drawing on Joy Division, the Drums and others to create a downbeat track that makes you want to violently shake around your home. There’s a more direct charge to “Midnight Sun,” in its emotionally heavy harmony and melancholic guitar run, seeing Yanya taking a soft-rock born feeling and giving it a weight that few can.