The pace at which Arlo Parks has gained acclaim has been truly inspirational. A poet first and foremost, she released her Super Sad Generation and Sophie EP’s in 2019 and gained attention of many critics for her combination of cleverly woven, intimately spoken lyrical passages and her dreamy, R&B infused sound. Then last year the attention only seemed to gain on this modern heartbreak storyteller. From cover Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees” with Phoebe Bridgers, to featuring on Glass Animals’ latest album Dreamland and to finally having a documentary made about her on BBC. This attention is faithfully deserved as Parks has acted as almost a shining light in the darkness that surrounds the present days. Now she emerges with a debut album that is packed with a collection of personal and often meditative stories that flourish in Parks’ warm touch.
As a poet one of Parks’ natural strengths is of course vibrant storytelling and this comes into full fruition all over this album, these aren’t just songs of love and hope, but transport you to the place and time that these stories have evolved from. On “Caroline” she sings of watching an “artsy couple” fighting at the bus stop, only to have the man’s girlfriend leave, wishing she would realise he “did it all for her”. Through her soulful, dreamy voice and rich descriptions of emotions “Strawberry cheeks flushed with defeated rage”, Parks not only places you in that moment but allows the tenderness of it to wash right over you. Most of these stories come from Parks’ adolescence or early adulthood, but no matter the story she is telling you feel instantly transported into her psyche and can feel the weight of every situation or moment she sings of.
Parks excels in inspiration from experience. On opener and title track “Collapsed In Sunbeams” she says “We’re all learning to trust our bodies, making peace with our own distortions. You shouldn’t be afraid to cry in front of me” as the simple arpeggios and gleaming synthesisers welcome you into the album, letting you know that this journey is open for all. For all her lyrical bravado there are moments that do read more like inspiring wall art. On “Green Eyes”, which features guitar work from Clairo, she exclaims “Some of these folks wanna make you cry, But you gotta trust how you feel Inside, And Shine”. The sentiment is well intended and fully meant by Parks, but feels slightly underwhelming for someone of her descriptive caliber.
She’s at her best when she creates folds her work into dreamy soundscapes that ooze with sentimental depth. One of the first songs released from this album, and one we named as one of the best songs of last year, “Black Dog” is so packed with nostalgia and love that it’s hard to not feel truly captivated at every moment. The stripped back feel of just the slow strummed guitar and the simple reverbed piano line create a truly haunting and yet endlessly emotional soundscape. Parks’ sings of best friend and how she tried to understand her depression, and you can hear the true beauty and sadness behind her voice as she sings each line, with each vocal fading into the soundscape trying to find some sort of resolve. And on “Eugene”, a realisation that platonic love might not be romantic, the flickering guitars, harmonies and dancing melodies of the chorus are a testament to Parks’ natural vocal flair. The intimacy in her hushed tone as she apologises in the chorus is so serene and piled with warmth that you could get lost in it for days on end.
There are of course moments on the album that don’t quite live up to the blissfulness of many tracks on this album. The sun drenched guitars and squashed drum beat of “Just Go” just feel a bit too plain and dried out to really give any backing to Parks vocals. And on “Bluish” the minimalist electronic beat and downplayed piano melody never quite reach the heights of some of its predecessors. This late on in the album it almost feels like there’s a slowing down of inspiration, that almost the clouds started to return over the sunlight that beamed out over the first leg of the tracklist. There is of course the moody and gritty “For Violet” where the dark days are also coming from Parks herself as she sings “It feels like nothing’s changing, And I can’t do this, can’t do this” over the Portishead-esque ambient synth pad. A slight atmospheric shift that does offer some new ground for Parks’ haunting vocals to glide across, but perhaps a little too late.
To come from releasing her first single “Cola” in 2018 to the release of this album feels like a true testament to Parks natural and rejoiceful aura. She sings of love and hope but crafts these sentiments through lyrical exuberance to become bigger and more inspiring than they might seem at first glance. The future truly is in Parks’ hands.