In Review: Arlo Parks - 'Black Dog'

19-year-old poet and songwriter Parks shows wisdom beyond her years, taking on subjects of depression and helplessness with her trademark sincerity and eloquence.
Posted: 19 May 2020 Words: Alex Orr

Arlo Parks is an artist who you may have heard of at the start of this year but would certainly know about by the end of the festival season (if festivals were still moving ahead, that is). Her brand of soul-tinged bedroom-pop combined with a surprisingly mature approach to writing shows skill and wisdom beyond her years at just 19, and her latest single 'Black Dog' illustrates this perfectly.

The atmosphere Parks creates with such a minimalist approach is extraordinary. A simple guitar riff written in her bedroom combined with a few electronic flourishes and an understated rhythm section creates this incredibly sincere and personal tone for the song – appropriate considering the subject she is tackling. You can hear sounds of bass strings hitting the fretboard and the differences in strokes on the guitar as if you are sat in her bedroom listening to the first recording of the song. The instrumentation and production are simple, and whilst there may be a missed opportunity for her to flex her technical ability this would have come across as wholly unnecessary on a song like this.

And what sort of song is this? Parks tackles depression and helplessness from the perspective of a friend on 'Black Dog'. It’s a heavy subject being taken on with a metaphor that isn’t particularly original, but thankfully she avoids over-reliance on the dog metaphor, instead choosing to focus on a more relatable approach to her lyrics. Almost all of what she says sounds like it has been lifted directly out of a conversation – the grandiosity of complicated metaphors and linguistic devices is avoided in favour of simple, effective language sung in a breathy, pseudo-spoken tone befitting the gravity of the situation being described. 

It’s truly amazing just how well written a song this is for someone who has been releasing music for less than two years. This statement doesn’t solely apply to ‘Black Dog’ either – previous single ‘Eugene’ and the rest of her short back catalogue achieve similar successes across the range of subject matters she has taken on. There’s definite room for improvement and more developed songwriting as she progresses through her career, but for the stage she is at now you couldn’t ask for a more complete package in a songwriter.  

To hear more from Arlo Parks, click here.

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