Switched On – Apifera: Overstand (Stones Throw)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

How long should it take to record an album? From the stories we hear, a few months would seem to be appropriate; a few weeks if the components really click. Apifera, newly formed as a quartet, took just three days to finish theirs, which explains its instinctive music making.

The band are accomplished solo artists from Tel Aviv who have played together before on the Stones Throw label, fronted by Yuval Havkin under his Rejoicer moniker. Here they appear as equals, listing an intriguing set of influences that include Ravel, Debussy and Sun Ra. These are placed in the melting pot alongside folk influences from Israel, Ghana and Sudan.

What’s the music like?

Given the outline above, it is no surprise to report that Overstand is both instinctive and musically free. The music reflects the fresh approach with which it was recorded, creating vivid pictures while utilising a satisfying ebb and flow of energy. The mood is largely positive, the chemistry between the players clear as they create room for each to have their own say.

Drummer Amir Bresler provides the best example of this approach, with complicated rhythms on Lake VU given impressive clarity but also allowing other contributions to shine through. He is a versatile beat maker, pushing the music along with positive energy, over which the keyboards of Nitai Hershkovits and Yuval himself shimmer and shine. Underneath the bass of  Yonatan Albalak offers a sure foundation but embodies their flexible style.

Theirs is an expansive approach but a focussed one too – none of the improvised passages outstays their welcome, and on occasion they add even more colour with brass.

Does it all work?

It does – Overstand works as an overall creator of positive, laid back moods, but also up close as a set of interlocking lines and textures. Just occasionally the music hints it might lose direction, but these moments are fleeting. The blissful, watery finish of Pulse 420 suggests the band could easily make an accomplished ambient record too.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Gloomy Januarys need this sort of music to see them through – and Overstand is a welcome dose of positivity in that regard. It works very nicely as a blend of its influences, bringing some of the cleaner lines of 20th century classical music up against offbeat jazz rhythms.

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Switched On – Sudan Archives: Athena (Stones Throw)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Born in Ohio and raised in Los Angeles, Brittney Parks is an artist who successfully evades categorisation under her alter ego Sudan Archives. Athena is her debut album, released on Peanut Butter Wolf’s Stones Throw imprint. That label placement suggests she will have leanings towards rap and hip hop – but that turns out to be a presumption on the part of the listener.

What’s the music like?

Original and fascinating. Sudan Archives is a vocalist capable of song and speech – but in addition she has another string to her bow in the form of a violin. Self-taught, she uses the instrument in melodies inspired by African rhythms and inflections.

These distinctive sounds make her music instantly recognisable, the violin used for middle ground melodies or as an upfront presence. Confessions enjoys the harsher tones of the instrument, complementing her sultry voice, but on the slow Black Vivaldi Sonata she coaxes rich tones of a more electronic timbre, overlaid in the foreground by plaintive pizzicato. Glorious takes a wiry unison melody that has a folk-based charm, while even the short interludes use the violin well, House of Open Tuning II offering a charming sound that makes the listener wish it would develop into something longer.

This attention to detail on the melodic front takes place over slower, versatile beats that work well in the context of hip hop, soul and R&B. Sometimes they cross between the two, as on Coming Up, complemented by the violin. Often Parks’ vocals are frank and personal, talking straight to the listener. ‘When I was a little girl I thought I could rule the world’, she begins on Did You Know – but before long it’s a realisation. ‘Did you know that life isn’t perfect?’, she declares.

The track sets the scene for an ambitious album based on her experience as a twin. Through that perspective she offers lyrics ‘testing the boundaries between good and evil, and vulnerability and strength’. There is a good deal of tension afoot, though songs like Iceland Moss offer a bit more contentment.

One of the album’s finest songs is Limitless, a richly scored number where the chorus is murmured softly. It is at once catchy and pertinent: ‘Living this on our fingertips, Don’t sweat it, just get it, We’re too cool to admit it, All we have is the internet’. Pelicans In The Summer is also excellent, a poignant song that closes the album with a plea, ‘I just want you to remember I never lied, never lied’.

Does it all work?

Yes. Athena is a refreshing experience for anyone tired by musical restrictions in a lot of the more chart-based hip hop and R&B. Sudan Archives refuses to get weighed down by those unwritten rules and trends, making music that is directly expressive and seemingly reflective of her as a person.

Is it recommended?

Yes. This is really interesting and original work from someone who is musically and emotionally frank without ever resorting to attention seeking. ‘Just feel it, don’t fight it, just feel it,’ she says on Green Eyes, and that is pretty much the advice to heed for Athena’s potential listeners. The album will make a strong impression, that’s for sure.

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