Arlo Parks’ debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams, released on 29th January, is a feast for the ears. The warm, soothing and delicate voice of the 20 year old hailing from London has rightfully already lauded her much critical acclaim and it is unsurprising that she has committed fans in the likes of global superstar Billie Eilish and South London rapper Loyle Carner.
It is hugely impressive what Parks has managed to achieve in the couple of years since she began as a hopeful uploading demos to BBC Introducing website. In 2020 her song ‘Cola’ featured in Michaela Coel’s seminal TV series I May Destroy You and a memorable performance of Radiohead’s ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ with Phoebe Bridgers on Radio 1’s Piano Sessions both signalled Parks’ upward trajectory preceding her album release.
In the eponymous opening track, a burst of spoken-word poetry, Parks underlines her skilled lyricism which is what elevates the record that follows: “Collapsed in sunbeams, stretched out to beauty however brief / or violent.” She possesses a comforting and conversational tone which puts her listener at ease and allows her to meditate on contemporary anxieties including mental-health, sexual identity, youth and loneliness in a distinctly authentic way.
It seems that nowadays many pop artists write about these topics as a self-conscious response to what is ‘trending’ rather than with any sense of candour or empathy, yet this is not the case for Parks whose revelatory and diaristic tone implies genuine lived experience. On ‘Portra 400’ she is “making rainbows out of something painful” which is a wonderful encapsulation of her song writing process as a whole.
Parks’ keen attention to detail is revealed in particular on the track ‘Caroline’. Her lyrical observations are uplifted by reverb-heavy electric guitar reminiscent of Radiohead’s ‘Weird Fishes / Arpeggi’ – incidentally a huge musical influence for her.
On thematically heavier tracks such as ‘Hurt’ and ‘Black Dog’, Parks balances her observational talent with her natural empathy creating earnest meditations on anxiety and depression: “Oh, wouldn’t it be lovely to feel somethin’ for once?”; “It’s so cruel / What your mind can do for no reason”. She deftly intertwines this with intuitive discussion of desire, love and heartbreak on standout tracks ‘Too Good’ (“You’re too proud to tell me that you are care / Watching you tryna push away”), ‘Green Eyes’ (“Of course I know why we lasted two months / Could not hold my hand in public”), ‘Eugene’ (“I had a dream, we kissed and it was all amethyst”) and ‘Just Go’ (“Told me I should change my mind / Said you’re feeling dead inside without me”).
Her lyrical depth in these tracks is complemented by sharp, looped breakbeats, subtle hints of neo soul and even an organ drifting into the mix on ‘Too Good’, which all imply that whilst Parks has created a commercially pleasing sound, she is not bound by genre conventions or expectations.
If anyone deserves and lives up to the Voice of a Generation hype, it is Arlo Parks. With emotive, observant lyricism and a smooth, beautifully airy voice, Collapsed in Sunbeams is a warm consolation in an otherwise bleak beginning to 2021.
image: samuelwren89 via: wikimedia commons