Arlo Parks Doesn't Turn from the Pain on 'My Soft Machine'
Published May 24, 2023Arlo Parks's My Soft Machine offers a peaceful and meditative reflection on a stagnant relationship and the journey to find wholeness. "Bruiseless" opens the album with a heartfelt diary entry, expressing regret and longing for how things used to be. "Impurities" follows with a relaxing instrumental and Parks's soft, airy vocals, creating a serene atmosphere. Parks's poetic songwriting shines throughout, urging listeners to embrace imperfections.
"Devotion" contrasts groovy guitar strums with airy vocals, the guitar work compensating for the track's relative lack of lyrical depth. The song suffers from being slightly repetitive by the end of its sub-three minute runtime, though "Blades" quickly captivates with its dance-inspired beat and infectious synth. "Purple Phase," however, reminds the listener that this album isn't just about the vibes; it's an honest plea to a loved one battling mental health challenges. The raw vulnerability in her vocals combined with the evocative lyrics creates a deeply moving moment in the album that provides just enough space for the listener to attach their own meaning to the song.
"Weightless" boasts a reverberating instrumental and vivid imagery of a decaying relationship, with poignant lines like "sandflies in the champagne" evoking a once celebratory moment that has now become sullied through time. As she reminisces about the honeymoon phase of her relationship ("re-reading our texts from the strawberry days"), it's satisfying to hear Parks excel in her ability to poetically encapsulate a relatable experience.
The latter half of the album continues to feature strong songwriting. "Pegasus," arguably the best song on the album, showcases a harmonious vocal dynamic with the record's sole feature, Phoebe Bridgers, exploring the need for love and comparing it to the satisfying, but ultimately harmful, effect of sugar on the human body. One might be disappointed to learn that Bridgers does not have a solo verse, but the track exquisitely juxtaposes Bridgers' melancholy delivery with Parks's airy optimism, making their unified delivery incredibly satisfying.
While "Dog Rose" and "Puppy" fall flat, "I'm Sorry" brings back the emotional intensity as Parks offers an apology and honest admission that she has trust issues and difficulties opening up. In "Room (Red Wings)," Parks continues to bare her soul, leading into the album's finale, "Ghost." This reflective track mourns a former relationship, emphasizing the haunting remnants of what was lost. It serves as a reminder that healing is an ongoing process and wounds can be reopened.
My Soft Machine captures the tragedy of romantic bliss becoming a persistent wound. The album opens with an acknowledgement of the bruises and impurities left after a potentially traumatic experience and it ends with an admission of Parks's own shortcomings and even an apology.
The album explores the psychological and physiological implications of heartache and sorrow on the human body — or the "soft machine," as it were. Despite a few moments spent in the doldrums, Park's heartfelt lyricism and serene instrumentals navigate the complexities of love and healing, reminding listeners of the ongoing process of finding wholeness. This is essential listening for anyone looking to repair their relationship with themselves more than anyone else. (Transgressive)