The release of Arlo Parks’ first studio album has got everyone talking. Collapsed in Sunbeams, released by Transgressive Records, is a soul and R&B album that dives into the mentality of a locked down world. At just twenty years old, Arlo Parks caught the rrramble team’s eye. Let’s see what they’ve got to say.
The ethereal voice of Arlo Parks, filled with poetic flair and lo-fi-bedroom pop vibes makes this intimate debut album the auditory antidote to help us cope with these strange times.
Parks has always been inspired by the literary world. ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’ is a reference from a Zadie Smith Short story; it foreshadows what is to come in the album – the duality of pain and joy, light and dark. Her confessional outpourings of emotion are embedded in her lyrics. It’s her craft of turning what feel like vulnerable diary entries into songs that we can see ourselves in; a world built around a shared intimacy between artist and listener.
Beginning with a stripped back spoken-word track, Arlo sets the tone for emotional discovery, quietly reassuring us that “You shouldn’t be afraid to cry in front of me”. With emotions now unguarded, raw and ready for anything, it dissolves into the track “Hurt”, a jazz and soul infused track and a stark contrast to the calmer start of our journey. Stark lyrics like “Won’t call her friends, because she’s ashamed of being locked into bed” relate to the shame we can internalise. The chorus “You’re not alone, we all have scars, I know it’s hard” are a poignant reminder of the need to speak out, and to listen to others too.
Depression is a theme Parks tackles with complete honesty in the stand-out track ‘Black Dog’. Released as a single in the height of the first lockdown, it became somewhat of an anthem for our isolated, anxiety-inducing times. Parks cleverly blends together pop culture references “I’d lick the grief right off your lips, you do your eyes like Robert Smith” with candid depictions of how all-consuming this darkness can become “Let’s go to corner store and buy some fruit, I would do anything to get you out your room” to the sound of a melancholic guitar strum.
‘Caroline’ is a stand-out track for its tragic depiction of the dissolution of a relationship. Parks’ songwriting cleverly positions herself in the song as an all-seeing, omniscient narrator: “I was waiting for the bus one day, watched a fight between an artsy couple escalate”. The subsequent grieving of what once was unfurls, as Arlo’s soulful tones lament ‘”Saw something inside her break, everybody knows the feeling, suddenly he started screaming, Caroline I swear to god I tried’’.
A Lo-fi sound is the backdrop for the features which allows for her lyrics to be the main focus, but even within that realm, Parks sonically pushes boundaries. From neo-soul to alt-rock and indie-pop, the subtle changes in sound results in the tracks melding into one another, and reflect the full spectrum of human emotion. Songs like ‘Just Go’ with its funky riffs will make you want to dance away the heartaches that just aren’t worth the pain. And the jazz infused ‘Green Eyes’ recounts a queer relationship that ultimately fails under the pressure of judging eyes: “Some of these folks want to make you cry, but you got to trust how you feel inside”.
On the album’s closing track, Parks’ soulful tones will resonate, as she sings “Making rainbows out of something painful”. For as long as we have Arlo Parks on repeat, surely good things will come in 2021.
Franz Schubert famously said, “Some people come into our lives, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same.” Jump ahead to the 21st Century and we see that, in general, people continue to advocate for kindness. Despite the fact that historically human beings have demonstrated a large capacity for cruelty, we still aspire to be ‘good’. As the popular modern philosopher Taylor Swift says, “No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.” There’s a cross over between Schubert’s “footprints on our hearts” and Swift’s “wonderful legacy” that I think Arlo Parks captures brilliantly in her debut studio album, Collapsed in Sunbeams. Even before her album’s release, Parks’ gift for lyrics branded her with the all too familiar tag: The Voice of a Generation. It’s a blessing and a curse to saddle an emerging artist with, creating a pressure to be mega woke and dazzle us with their astounding self-awareness. It’s not necessarily where you want to be at twenty years old. That said, Arlo Parks rises to the challenge with an album that speaks astutely to the issues facing her generation.
I should really start with a disclaimer: this isn’t my kind of music. The tone throughout is mellow and whilst Parks’ vocals are immaculate, the songs are all too low-key for my taste. The first few songs are thematically very similar, each with an overly repetitive lyrical hook. Her lyrics speak to a collective “we” that is hurting, alone and struggling to find peace with their identity. As I lay in bed listening to the album, I understood the appeal of her poetics. Her words wrap around you like a close friend, pressing a comforting hand onto your shoulder. She soothes all the worries and insecurities with her gentle London lull that effortlessly shares in your pain. The songs become a space to dwell together in our imperfect minds, ready to step back outside and face the imperfect world arm in arm. But unfortunately for Arlo, I’m not the friend she’s looking for. I found myself getting defensive at her assumption that I too was stuck in this collective sadness. As she tried to reach out to me with her comforting reassurances I found myself pulling back. She sang, “you’re not alone, like you think you are,” and all I could think was I don’t think that.
Whilst Arlo and I bickered our way through the first half hour, I did enjoy two of the songs that cropped up later on. My favourite was ‘Just Go’ with its more upbeat tempo and light guitar riffs. This is probably because Arlo doesn’t play the friend in this song. She rejects an ex-lover’s desperate attempts to win her back in a fantastically chilled style. Another great track that’s quickly emerging as a public favourite is ‘Caroline’. Parks really shows off her lyrical ability and creates a beautiful narrative of heartache between strangers that hits close to home.
Okay, the thing is Arlo Parks is right; we all have moments when we feel alone. For some people, this album will be the lyrical embrace they need to validate those feelings. Our generation has pushed hard to increase conversations around mental health that are well overdue. I really appreciate that Collapsed in Sunbeams dedicates itself to addressing mental health in a respectful and modern way worthy of its generation.
Alessia Cara’s The Pains of Growing deals with similar themes in a way that resonated much more with me. I’d recommend any listeners of Arlo Parks check out the album, but also give it a chance if, like me, you prefer a bit of distance in your music – where Arlo is the friend you call round to comfort you, Alessia is the one giving herself a pep talk in the loo before she asks if you fancy hanging out. We all need strength in ourselves and strength from our friends. If Arlo Parks and Alessia Cara fancy doing a collab, count me in. Now that would be the voice of a generation.
I’ll say now that I am a big fan of Arlo Parks having followed her music since the release of ‘Cola’ in 2018, so I was eagerly awaiting the release of her debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams. I had high expectations and Arlo has well and truly delivered. I have heard a number of the songs featured on previous EPs but placed within a whole album, the songs have even more significance through the telling of a poetic and cohesive story.
In light of everything that’s going on in the world right now, I think this album is the little bit of sunshine we definitely do know we need.
It’s so refreshing to listen to an album that is such an openly candid, honest and self-reflective account which pleasantly lacks clichés and is oozing with the message of self-care. The album echoes a myriad of raw emotions experienced by her generation, reflecting on the pressures felt by herself such as self-acceptance, sexuality and mental health. The fourth track on the album, ‘Hope’, really hits home as a compassionate message to someone who is feeling the debilitating effects of a deteriorating mental health. It’s here where Arlo’s powerful honesty is clear, as though it’s a self-care letter to herself (a feeling also sensed in the track ‘Hurt’) admitting that “Truth is I’m still learning to be open about this”. I think we’re all still learning, whether it’s to be open about our own struggles or how to help someone else through theirs. It feels like this album could not be more relevant to the times we are in, like it was written to directly reflect the emotional impact that the pandemic has had on us all; perfectly timed release I’d say. The way that Arlo expresses her own thoughts and feelings, without glamorising mental health, along with displaying such honesty is inspirational, grounding and above all, incredibly cathartic.
The opening spoken word and title track Collapsed in Sunbeams, underpins the whole message of the album, hope. Arlo’s musical talent consistently has a way of turning something agonising into something uplifting and covered in positivity. This combination of spoken word and her dulcet tone makes for a really captivating listen; I want to pay attention to every word and their meaning within the context of the album and the wider context of society. “We’re all learning to trust our bodies, making peace with our own distortions” embraces emotional turmoil so delicately and with this there’s no doubt that Arlo has a background in poetry and a real way with words. True to form, the way that Arlo’s lyricism in this album captures a general mood whilst creating a much more descriptive scenario is simply so powerful.
For someone so young, Arlo Parks speaks with such wisdom and empathy, reflecting on her own struggles to provide a message of hope for others. In 2020 she became an ambassador for CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably); this along with her music suggests Arlo Parks is becoming a genuine and even stronger voice for her generation. I can’t recommend this album enough!
Collapsed in Sunbeams is available now on most major music streaming sites.