When asked an unoriginal music-journalism question — ”Who are your influences?” — Brittney Parks gives a wholly original answer: “church and Björk.”
Parks, who performs under the name Sudan Archives, has a musical aesthetic that actually fits that description. A typical Sudan Archives song may not sound like the experimental Icelandic singer and composer’s work, but Parks and Björk share an interest in mystery, absurdity, darkness, and joy. As for the other influence, church in her hometown of Cincinnati is where Parks, 28, discovered her love of singing and playing the violin. (Yes, she does that, too.)
The songs on “Natural Brown Prom Queen,” Sudan Archives’ second album, released last month, range in subject from resentment (the scathing “OMG BRITT”) to self-empowerment (the confident “Selfish Soul”). The result has been a widely received, critically acclaimed work, which she says she did not anticipate.
“When I was making the album, it was through the pandemic,” says Parks over the phone from Los Angeles, ahead of Monday’s show at The Sinclair in Cambridge. “It was also a release, a therapy for me. Each song was what I was actually going through. So I think I was more focused on ‘How do I articulate what I’m going through?’ and less like ‘How do I reach more people?’”
Parks points to “FLUE” as an example. The song, which uses a virus as a metaphor for increasing discomfort in relationships, has a twitchy chorus in which Parks sings, “Achin’, you snitchin’/ You itchin’, you sneezin’/ It’s not what it looks like, what you thought.” Emotional confusion, and extreme flu symptoms, abound.
“[’FLUE’] is essentially about how the dynamic of everything was changing around me because of COVID, including my personal relationships,” says Parks. “It was just harder. I’m a homebody, but I’m not used to being home that much. That was definitely describing how I felt.” A variety of emotions come across on “Selfish Soul,” which combines an infectious, click-clack beat with Parks’s signature violin. The song is about changing her hair as a means of releasing herself from expectation and perception.
“Cutting off the hair is just so liberating,” she says. “For a lot of Black women, our hair is very important to us, because we go through a lot with how to manage it, and it can be stressful. That song is like, don’t be afraid to cut it off. A lot of women are afraid to cut it off because they’re afraid of how they’ll be perceived.”
Parks recently described the song on the podcast “Song Exploder,” on which host Hrishikesh Hirway asks musicians to demonstrate how their songs were written, arranged, and recorded. Parks, he says, was a natural fit for the show.
“Sudan Archives is an incredibly exciting artist,” he wrote in an e-mail. “She’s a songwriter and singer and rapper and producer and violinist. What I like about making ‘Song Exploder’ generally, and in her episode in particular, is getting the chance to hear how all those skills and talents come together in her songs, and how that music is a reflection of who she is as an artist and a person.”
When asked about the process of writing and arranging songs that are so unpredictable and eclectic, Parks recalls her early musical career, when she was looping percussion, violin, and vocal sounds on a smaller scale.
“I’m really used to DIY because when I started, it was just me and my iPad in GarageBand. So I think that’s influenced me. I don’t have to depend on a lot of other people.” However, she adds, musician and producer Ben Dickey is an invaluable part of her process.
With “Selfish Soul,” she says, “I already wrote the lyrics to the song. I also wrote the violin parts as well. I record all the things that are in my head. And then I’ll show it to Ben and see what he thinks about it. Then if he likes it, it’s usually good.”
That collaborative spirit is reflected in her current tour, whose title “Homecoming” recalls “Natural Brown Prom Queen” in its celebration of the communal.
When asked what audience members can expect from the Cambridge show, Parks thinks and says, “The bigger performances are really nice because I really feed off the energy and can interact with more crowds. So I’d say, they can expect to be part of my prom. Come see my prom. Come see what I’m talking about.”