In Review: Arlo Parks - Collapsed In Sunbeams

If Parks had a tagline it'd be: “making rainbows out of something painful”. On the breakthrough artist's debut effort less is often more, but her statement is always profound.
Posted: 27 January 2021 Words: Jess Hodgson

So few can weave poetry as eloquently as Arlo Parks. A wordsmith in her infancy, Parks is just 20 years old, and her talent beguiles her age to such an extent that it’s hard to believe that she’s only been releasing music since 2018. Her highly anticipated debut album Collapsed In Sunbeams is a culmination of acclaimed singles that have cemented Parks as one of Britain’s most talented breakthrough acts. An insight into Parks’ adolescence, this confessional record shares intimate snapshots of the moments and people who made her.

Easing us into her world, Parks affinity for poetry shines through across the record; gentle spoken-word over delicate string instrumentation on eponymous opener ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’, ‘Hurt’ features a bridge which is defined by another spoken-word delivery. Most of her tracks feature protagonists with whom the listener can connect with on some level - the latter of the two aforementioned tells of Charlie, a boy who struggles with depression but finds hope in the message that “it won’t hurt so much forever”. Park’s storytelling is colloquial and familiar, yet always beautifully constructed. Similarly, ‘Hope’ showcases Parks’ imaginative narration, whilst also demonstrating her versatility as a musician with blues and jazz experience. Like most of Parks’ work, ‘Hope’ is centred on the honest topic of mental health, and features a character who is trying to reacquaint herself with the beauty of life. 

Perhaps the most memorable track of the album is ‘Black Dog’, which is equal parts devastating and heartening. It serves as a reminder to all those who are struggling that they are not alone. With its sweet, enduring melody backed by subdued guitar lines and electronic embellishments, ‘Black Dog’ is Parks at her most visceral; a best friend, a sister, a partner offering solace against the weight of pain. 

We are reminded of Parks’ coming-of-age arc on tracks like ‘Green Eyes’ and ‘Eugene’. The former navigates a same-sex relationship riddled with self-doubt and fear of judgment, in which Parks’ offers acceptance to her former lover, saying that she could never blame her for their short-lived romance. Conversely, ‘Eugene’ explores pining for someone who is with another, and the agony and jealousy that comes with it, which Parks cleverly considers with contextually relevant wordplay.

There is really such simplicity to Parks’ style - less is often more, but the statement is always profound. Across the album, Parks is consistent yet unafraid to explore different realms of genre. Interestingly, ‘For Violet’ adopts a shoegaze-y approach to production, where dreamy synth work adds an extra layer to this stylistically impressive track.

Toward the end of the album, Parks conveys more spoken-word against airy instrumentation and sonar pings on ‘Blueish’, which deals with the feeling of suffocation in a relationship and the constant need to reassert boundaries to a toxic partner. The themes which the young songwriter wrestles with once again attributes maturity beyond her years, but we mustn't forget that age doesn’t negate experience, and Parks’ openness to pick apart her feelings proves that it’s okay to be vulnerable. 

If Arlo Parks had a tagline, “making rainbows out of something painful” would surely be it. Taken from final track ‘Portra 400’, this lyric encapsulates Parks’ brand perfectly. She is an artist whose mission is to heal herself and others with her work. 

Collapsed In Sunbeams is out on Friday (29th January) via Transgressive Records.

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