Updated: Feb 23
The rising star has created a poignant and distinctive album that is bursting with charm and confidence.
Arlo Parks’ enchanting debut album ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’ delivers 45 minutes of soft soulful groove and confirms her position as a rising singer-songwriter of incredible talent and grace.
Her music flirts between genres across hip hop, R&B, indie, pop and jazz with an uplifting old-school feel which is elevated by Parks’ ethereal vocals.
Inspired by artists as diverse as Sufjan Stevens, Solange, Frank Ocean and Portishead, Parks began sending demos to the BBC when she was only 17.
She found success quickly when her 2018 debut single ‘Cola’ was featured in Michaela Coel’s BBC drama ‘I May Destroy You' and subsequently amassed over 15 million streams on Spotify.
Parks’ ability to write about the painful aspects of life with compassion, hope and warmth is what listeners love most about her.
Her lyrics shine through on every track she creates and ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’ is a moving testament to her artistry, featuring lyrics sourced from old diaries and notebooks that she wrote during her early teens.
The album opens with a soothing piece of spoken-word poetry...
“Collapsed in sunbeams/ Stretched out open to beauty however brief or violent/ I see myself ablaze with joy, sleepy-eyed/ Feeding your cat or slicing artichoke hearts/ I see myself sitting beside you.”
Parks speaks softly and liltingly over calming strings, pulling you into a tranquil state of mind. The final line sets the mood for the entire album – “You shouldn’t be afraid to cry in front of me”.
The singer-songwriter from London has never been one to shy away from tackling heavy and often taboo subjects such as mental health, human relationships, sexuality and discrimination.
‘Collapsed in Sunbeams' sees Parks take life-changing and heart-breaking events and turn them into beautiful songs with captivating narratives.
She herself described the album as a “series of vignettes and intimate portraits surrounding my adolescence and the people that shaped it. It is rooted in storytelling and nostalgia – I want it to feel both universal and hyper-specific.”
On the beautifully complicated ‘Eugene’, her character develops feelings for a straight girl who is her best friend, a heart-rending variation on a traditional pop theme - unrequited love where reciprocation is essentially impossible.
Over a lilting instrumental, ‘Green Eyes’ recounts the end of a relationship due to homophobia, “I wish your parents had been kinder to you//They made you hate what you were out of habit”.
Parks recounts the story of a couple fighting that she saw once at the bus stop alongside guitar chords and atmospheric synthesizers on ‘Caroline’. “Threw her necklace in his face/Eyes so bright with disappointment/I saw something inside her break,” she sings.
‘Hurt’ tackles the toxic comfort of addiction and again shows Parks ability to create an impact through her lyrics: “Charlie melts into his mattress/ Watching Twin Peaks on his ones/ Then his fingers find a bottle/ When he starts to miss his mum/ Wouldn't it be lovely to feel somethin' for once?” While ‘Too Good’ describes the experience of a girl who loves a boy who does not show reciprocity alongside psychedelic 70s beats. She asks, “Why’d we make the simplest things so hard?”
Parks’ most celebrated track ‘Black Dog’ discusses the complex nature of trying to lift a friend from a deep depression and has been declared a “pandemic anthem”.
Its beat resembles fundamental hip-hop sounds with simply-strummed acoustic guitar chords to accompany Parks’ sweet vocals. “I'd lick the grief right off your lips,” she sings, her tone intimate and sincere throughout. “Let's go to the corner store and buy some fruit/I would do anything to get you out your room.”
Each song has a powerful message but perhaps the most fitting of all for the current climate is ‘Hope’ which deals with insecurity and anxiety about the future. In a world that has never looked anymore uncertain the refrain of, “You’re not alone like you think you are”, sung over jazzy piano chords and upbeat synths, is a gentle and reassuring reminder that things won’t always be this way.
Overall, this is a magical debut album overflowing with laidback melodies, mature poeticism and silky vocals.
The entire record shifts smoothly from track to track and while sometimes it can be easy to drift in and out of the vocals and instrumentation, it feels like Parks’ main objective is for us to focus on the lyrics.
They are at the centre of everything and drive this album with Parks’ songwriting and poetry reminding us why she is one of the most talked-about acts in the UK right now.
To quote the final track of the album ‘Portra 400’, Parks is “making rainbows out of something painful.” She reminds us that we are not alone in this world and provides listeners with the light at the end of the tunnel that we all seek.