Arlo Parks – ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’ | Album Review

The most lyrically intuitive artist of our time, Arlo Parks releases ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’

Long-awaited and incredibly highly anticipated, at last, we have been blessed with the release of the debut album ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’ from British singer-songwriter Arlo Parks. Producing music that flirts between indie pop, R&B and hip hop, the diversity of Parks’ artistry is perhaps what makes her such an exciting new talent from the hives of London. It is no surprise that the likes of Phoebe Bridgers, Hayley Williams and even Michelle Obama, have hailed this sensational new star as an artist to keep a keen eye glued to. Promising twelve tracks of finely sculpted beauty, this twenty-year-old – yes, you heard correctly – is paving her way to ground-breaking success in the fiercely competitive industry, and this collection of songs is only just the beginning. 

Following a year of nothing but uncertainty and despair, Parks introduces what she remarks as an ‘accidental’ running theme of hope throughout her album, which is something that each and every one of us is striving for as we walk into the new year. An air of warmth and security seems to radiate throughout the album; the introductory piece entitled ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’, demonstrates Parks’ lyrical gift in the form of spoken word before the listener has even embarked on the album’s sonic journey. Accompanied by a wistful repeated guitar loop, this piece was inspired by Gary Snyder and his ‘Four Poems for Robin’ and is arguably the most crucial track in understanding the album’s deeper meaning: this record is not just a track-list of Parks’ best work, but a sensory experience. 

As the album begins its journey, carefully constructed lyrical choices and the incorporation of spoken word intertwined into the structure of certain songs become prevalent features of Parks’ artistry. This applies to the songs ‘Hurt’, ‘Porta 400’ and ‘Hope’, since they each surround the theme of finding light throughout the abyss that life may throw before us. ‘Hurt’ has a soulful tinge to it, with the influence of Motown presented as a large impact on Parks’ sound. Her gorgeously gritty and idiosyncratically hushed vocal sings, “You know it won’t hurt so much forever,” like the voice of reason for an emotionally drained mind. The same encouraging effect is created throughout ‘Hope’ with the refrain of, “You’re not alone like you think you are,” and with the use of the spoken word during each song, Parks evokes a sense of comfort through her words as she directly addresses her listeners. In an interview with NME, Parks discussed how she hopes that this song will unify her live audiences when she returns to the stage. 

For songwriters, the art of storytelling through songs is often a difficult feat to conquer effectively, but for Parks this is not the case as she plays the role of God with a selection of characters and scenarios in tracks like ‘Eugene’, ‘Caroline’ and ‘Green Eyes’. Whether these characters are fictionalised or people that are interwoven into Parks’ life is uncertain, but her ability to craft relatable scenarios, like the fragmentation of the relationship discussed in ‘Caroline’, is a display of her intuitive and mature perspective. A personal favourite, ‘Caroline’ was lyrically and stylistically inspired by the band The Streets with its in-the-moment quality as Parks sings, “Eyes so bright with disappointment / I saw something inside her break / Everybody knows the feeling,”. Thom Yorke, the father of melancholy musical musings, has also left his mark on the impressionable Parks as a distant and transient sweeping guitar line accompanies her voice throughout the track, much like that of certain songs from the Radiohead album ‘In Rainbows’. Perhaps ‘Caroline’ and ‘Green Eyes’ are somewhat connected, since ‘Caroline’ presents the end and breakdown of a relationship, whilst ‘Green Eyes’ romanticises the beginnings of falling in love with influences of Frank Ocean and the Studio Ghibli films at the heart of its creation. 

Whilst Parks’ debut record may be presented as an extended metaphor for the discovery of hope in the darkness, her attitude towards serious matters like depression and corrupted relationships is expressed in an effortlessly gorgeous and mature manner for instance in the songs ‘Black Dog’ and ‘For Violet’. With a perturbing drone-like bass and hauntingly truthful lyrics, ‘For Violet’ goes hand in hand with the images of hopelessness and mental decay discussed in Parks’ most celebrated masterpiece ‘Black Dog’. “It feels like nothing’s changing / And I can’t do this,” sings Parks over a mellow drum beat which permeates ‘For Violet’ – it is a powerful, sonic cry for help. Similarly, ‘Black Dog’ is a force of its own as it carries the same hip-hop beat to accompany Parks’ voice and the faint strums of an acoustic guitar. “It’s so cruel / What your mind can do for no reason,” she sings with a painfully intimate and helpless tone; Parks is not afraid to discuss subjects that may be deemed taboo, and instead she uses her artistry to raise awareness of these heavy subjects. 

Parks is the big sister that we all needed as her record also explores the pursuit of happiness through the tracks ‘Too Good’, ‘Just Go’ and ‘Bluish’. Parks encourages listeners to put on their dancing shoes and lose themselves in the subtle disco funk feel of ‘Just Go’ and ‘Too Good’. “Why don’t you just go?” sings Parks as the track presents itself as a middle finger towards relationship toxicity and the creation of boundaries – a theme that also seems to prevail through the penultimate song on the record ‘Bluish’. Glistening with a silky piano chord accompaniment that dictates the direction of the track, Parks warns, “When I say I need some space / I shouldn’t have to ask you twice.” The relatability of Parks’ work portrays her as more human than the synthetic celebrities we all worship, as her introspective writing approach offers comfort and reassurance during her listeners’ hardship. 

As she continues to strive for the stars with her artistry, there is no doubt that the name Arlo Parks will be the topic of many musical conversations following the gift of her stunning debut. ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’ is a triumph in breakthrough artist history and perfectly demonstrates the poetic genius of a musical mastermind aspiring to be nothing but the voice of hope and reason for those struggling through turbulent times. Those who underestimate the artistic force of Generation Z should be careful, for with this release Arlo Parks has provided listeners with the light at the end of the tunnel that we all crave. 

Words by Lucy Tessier

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