Whatever you think you know about violin music, forget it. Composer-producer-singer-violinist Sudan Archives wields her fiddle like no other, and on her eponymous debut EP, she redefines what four strings can do. Inspired by fiddlers of northeast Africa, she blends hypnotic melodies with soulful vocals that sometimes verge on trancelike and holds them all together with scrappy, synthesized beats. Archives is self-taught on her axe, and every part of Sudan Archives pulses with individuality as the artist plays with echoes and dissonance, distorting R&B-style chords and molding them into her own unique world.
As the album opens, it’s hard to imagine any space for violins. “Paid” builds up in thick, atmospheric layers of electronic melody and rhythm that stretch out with a palpable kind of darkness. It pulses, pulses, pulses, and then — a sharp cut into “Come Meh Way”, a bright single with jagged edges and unexpected intervals that give incredible texture to the dramatic cry of Archives’ piercing fiddle. Her voice ringing twofold, she sings in intriguing, dissonant not-quite-harmony with herself, both pleasing and perplexing.
On “Time”, dissonance again opens up the tune as a track of Archives bowing a line on her violin matches up in time with her plucking the same line. It isn’t a perfect, polished meshing of notes; something is a little off, just jarring enough to avoid complacency as the song picks up speed and swirls into a mesmerizing haze of scattered percussion and mumbled lyrics that all come together in a clear refrain: “All you wanted / All you wanted / All you wanted was time.” It straddles the border of song and incantation, smearing the boundaries between natural and supernatural realms.
When Archives then sings words pulled from a normal morning — “Wake up / If you want some oatmeal, I got you” — they feel uncanny in their earthiness, still set against a background of synths and violin, more sinuous on “Oatmeal” than ever before on the album.
“Goldencity” marks a philosophical climax; “No more pain in my name no more,” Archives sings, her violin taking on the melancholy tone of a wailing horn behind her words. Her voice reverberates with weary emotion, deep and long-suffering, and the track fades into the sounds of the sea – the sounds of erosion.
The album ends on an introspective note as “Wake Up” finds Archives playing what sounds like a soft, pizzicato lullaby and pondering aloud her loneliness: “I got too much swag,” she laments, “That’s why / I ain’t got no friends / I’m too confident.” It’s hard to tell where the balance lies between tongue-in-cheek and touching, but there’s a weight to it that feels sincere and anchors the whole record.
There isn’t nearly enough of Sudan Archives yet, a worldwide deficit that we can only hope is resolved sooner than later. Until then, we can rejoice in the knowledge that there is something new and wonderful in the world of music. The six tracks of Sudan Archives give us a peek into a godlike creative mind, one capable of making real that which was once unimaginable. Here’s to decades more of Archives’ inventions, wherever they may take her.