Published Jan 25, 2021On her long-awaited debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams, British phenom Arlo Parks has delivered an essential reprieve from what has been a devastatingly drab past few months without diving too deep into discussions about the pandemic and social unrest.
This is not to say Collapsed in Sunbeams is here to heal wounds. No, the weight of the world should never fall on a single person. But Parks is different — an extraordinary artist who's shown, through a small body of work, the talent to convey complex emotion with a sense of maturity beyond her 20 years of age, managing to express it all as if she's lived a lifetime or two.
On the overcast trip-hop gem "Black Dog," Parks writes to a dear friend who's struggling through their own bout of depression, personifying it as a black dog, pleading, "I'd take a jump off the fire escape / To make the black dog go away / Alice, I know that you are trying / And that's what makes it terrifying." The compassionate nature of Parks' words here is not a rare occurrence — empathy is draped all over this record. "For Violet" sees Parks' dedication to others on full display, as she comforts the titular Violet, promising them, "You know that I'll be there to kiss the damage." On "Eugene," an ode to a friend, she relinquishes envy to save their bond.
Parks has a lifetime of experiences in front of her still. But she's able to communicate such profound feelings because she's not far removed from her years as a teen; she can tap into the turbulence of adolescent emotions.
Parks can raise hairs with a simple turn of phrase and poetic image — if only the music encompassing her words was as compelling. Tracks like "Black Dog," "For Violet," and "Portra 400" are all cut from the same gloomily textured trip-hop cloth, and they're easily the album's most stunning moments. Her formula combines melting guitars with downtempo beats and grainy sonic textures, but this blueprint works, primarily, because it allows Parks' hymnal intonations to slice through the rain like aural rays of sunlight. These tracks point toward a more compelling musical direction that would allow Parks to stand out as a singular pop artist, but the overwhelmingly simple bedroom pop stylings that decorate the majority of the album struggle to leave a mark.
"Bluish," for example, features a intimate vocal performance and a delectably rainy atmosphere that's easy to be lured into. However, the song's uncomplicated lo-fi beats and simplistic bassline stagnate and stall, never taking the listener anywhere beyond what it offers on the surface. Then there is "Hope," the album's lyrical linchpin about being there for another during a time of depression and desperation; Parks breathes life-giving energy into "Hope," both with her soulful voice and encouraging words, but that same feeling doesn't come across in the lifeless piano and shuffling drums.
Nevertheless, Parks' wise words are indeed the album's saving grace. With her precocious writing capabilities, it's possible to envision the potential of someone who really could become the voice of this new generation. If anything, she's a special storyteller who will only garner more respect and attention as time passes. (Transgressive)