REVIEW: ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams,' Arlo Parks' debut album, is flawless from start to finish
Arlo Parks is one of those artists who, long before their first album, has been destined to be the next big thing. Perhaps that makes a debut release even more daunting, though you could never tell this from ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams.’ Right off the bat, individuality floods through Parks’ writing and confirms that she is definitely in this for the long haul. There’s no “one-hit-wonder” syndrome, no “well, this sounds like everything else out at the moment” – it’s distinctively Arlo Parks, and it’s glorious.
The album opens in spoken poetry, Arlo’s voice liquid gold against gentle fingerpicked guitar. “You shouldn’t be afraid to cry in front of me,” she says, almost conveying a message to the listener; don’t be scared to emerge yourself in these songs.
After all, Parks’ lyricism is all about emotion. There’s something so unique about how she weaves tiny details and pop culture references into a web of something greater. Moments that any other person would let pass by without a second thought, Parks grips to. With her words, the simplicities of life become hauntingly poignant. Watching Twin Peaks, quoting Thom Yorke, picking at rips in her Nikes – leave it to Arlo Parks to make magic out of that.
It’s the choruses that are the finishing touch to each song. She perfectly balances the intricate verses with sweeping statements of comfort, like the promise of “you’re not alone / like you think you are” in ‘Hope.’ If you’re after music that sounds like a warm embrace (which, quite honestly, I think we could all use right now) then look no further.
That’s one of the many special things about ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’ – Arlo Parks manages to make songs sound completely gorgeous without ever romanticising the suffering behind the lyrics. ‘Black Dog’ is the finest example of this; the single touches on the terrifying reality of knowing someone who is struggling to cope with their mental illness. The term ‘black dog’ was originally coined by Roman poet Horace, and is regularly used as a metaphor for depression. “It’s so cruel / what your mind can do for no reason” is sung so softly, but its brutal honesty is refreshing to hear. As much as music can sometimes encourage a good wallow in our feelings, it’s about time that someone tackled these issues with the truth.
‘For Violet’ is a more hopeless take on seeing a friend in pain. It’s drenched in despair as Arlo admits “It feels like nothing’s changing / and I can’t do this.” The crackling of a vinyl record in the background sets a grungey atmosphere to this song, whilst still remaining distinctively laid-back and dreamy.
It’s not just the struggles of depression that Arlo Parks is here to shine a light on, though. Collapsed in Sunbeams features an array of different experiences Arlo has had with her sexuality. Jealousy towards a straight best friend who dated a guy not good enough for her, the fear of holding hands in public – they’re stories that aren’t told enough in the mainstream, and it feels monumental that LGBTQ+ kids now have music like this that they can feel truly understood by.
“Making rainbows out of something painful," the album closes with. A reflection on the poetry that comes from Arlo’s agony, but also perhaps the pride she feels within herself and her music. ‘Porta 400' is the perfect finale to what is, honestly, a flawless debut. As with all first albums, perhaps there’s an uneven balance of old singles that have already been played to death against the fresh, anticipated deep cuts… but is it really a criticism to say she left me wanting more? There’s always more experimentation to be done, more sounds to explore and stories to be told. The fact that Parks can spin anything into poetry gives her such endless possibilities when it comes to her future discography. The words “they’re the next big thing” have been said a million times about a million artists, but take my word for it on Arlo Parks – she’s amongst the greats of the new generation.
Caitlin Taff is a writer and Taylor Swift enthusiast from Sheffield, UK. Her love of writing was inspired by obsessing over Fall Out Boy's lyricism in her teens, and she spends most of her time in a nostalgic haze watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @caitlintxff.