Album Review: Arlo Parks - Collapsed In Sunbeams

Tom Wrath delves into Arlo Parks' highly anticipated debut LP, Collapsed In Sunbeams.

Tom Wrath
8th February 2021

Burgeoning poet-songwriter Arlo Parks exercises subtle nuance on her calming and intimate debut album, encompassing a range of relaxed styles, and poignant themes.

Delightfully layered, laid-back soundscapes contribute to the deceivingly mature ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’, as exquisite storytelling is exemplified in whimsical poeticism. Not only can the listener lose themselves in funk and jazz driven tracks, but they can also lose themselves in the crisscrossing and interpersonal narratives illustrating a range of topics.

With many of the lyrics based on Parks’ adolescent journal, it is perhaps no surprise that there are countless names to remember: ‘Eugene’ and ‘Caroline’ to name but two. Whilst the former paints mauve in its exploration of unrequited love for a lifelong friend, ‘Caroline’ is arguably the standout track, with a catchy hook and poignant reminiscence on mundane normal life framing one of the few imagined narratives on the album. Through the eyes of an “artsy couple”, Parks’ gives agency to victims of abuse in relationships with devastating consequences, as the dialogue between the couple  (“Caroline, I swear to God I tried”) also infers her own pathos at being unable to help. It’s an uneasy portrait, but one painted with necessity and sensibility by an artist unafraid to tackle big subjects.

‘Black Dog’ depicts depression with both empathy and bleakness, whilst ‘Green Eyes’ laments the loss of a lover due to homophobia (“I wish your parents had been kinder to you//They made you hate what you were out of habit”) but refuses to “blame you darling”. The funky ‘Just Go’ is deceitfully seductive in beat, but lyrically bemoans to a past lover, “(I) Won’t deny I miss your choice of words”.

These are important songs about important topics, and in a year where many of us grieve for ‘before all this’, the irrefutably positive ‘Hope’ is an anthem of its title. Possibly the most important track of 2021 thus far, the line “you’re not alone like you think you are” hangs in the conscience after 3, 4, 5 listens, and by the 10th, 11th listens become a tagline of unearthly and transcendent optimism. Whilst the instrumentation is clearly second to lyrics on this album, production from Gianluca Buccellati is gorgeously understated, loosening into an R&B groove (‘Bluish’, ‘Porta 400’) when not gracefully augmenting Parks’ storytelling.

It could appear that ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’ main flaw is its one-dimensionality, with Parks’ safe mid-range boring by the latter stages of the album; however, the album doesn’t want us to focus on the vocals, or the instrumentation, but the lyrics. Parks deeply affecting and naturally poetic groove is remarkable without backing, but the instrumentation on Collapsed in Sunbeams helps craft a snapshot of modern life with vulnerability, charm, and positivity - emphatically highlighting Parks’ prodigious artistry and incredulous understanding of the human psyche.

(4/5)

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