Sudan Archives – Athena (5 stars)

Sudan Archives – Athena

Singer-songwriter and violinist's debut album is a dazzling technical achievement

Sudan Archives has always walked her own path. Releasing two startling EPs, this violinist-songwriter moves effortlessly from left field electronics to lush R&B, avant classical aesthetics through to the breathiest of sensual neo-soul.

Debut album Athena offers all of this and more, a startling inventive record whose deft emotional resonance asks powerful, timely questions while also dealing with painfully personal issues. Lead single 'Confessions' is all sliding strings and hypnotic vocals, for example, while the gorgeous neo-soul wonder 'Limitless' locates zero-gravity songwriting within its digital fixation.

Often cutting ideas down before allowing them a chance to cool, Athena is a record crammed with deft allusions, sudden about-turns, and unexpected dalliances. Having worked solely with producer Matthewdavid on her earlier EPs, the Los Angeles artist broadens her palette considerably on her debut full-length project, mixing studio time with producers Washed Out, Rodaidh McDonald and Paul White.

The result is a broad yet remarkably cohesive record, one that is elastic in sound but stunningly precise in its execution. Openly emotive highlight 'Iceland Moss' has a painterly touch, Sudan Archives' vocal aching with an all-too-real sense of pain as she murmurs, 'You're just like my father … '

Painstakingly constructed – Sudan Archives inserts two 30-second sketches to split the record into an exploratory triad – Athena is in perpetual revolution. It's an attempt, she states, to forge 'a black Renaissance', a startling meditation on the relationship between Western modes of expression and African influence, one that eschews the staid and the traditional for the bold and untested.

A dazzling technical achievement, perhaps the most imposing aspect of Athena is the lingering emotional impact it carries within its core through the brave, highly revealing songwriting Sudan Archives inserts underneath her tantalising aural mosaic. A record to be savoured.

Out Fri 1 Nov on Stones Throw Records.

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