Mixing soft spoken word poetry, understated soul and indie pop Arlo Parks’s new album ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’ has a uniquely fresh style which sets her apart in the current British music scene.
By opening the album with a poem, almost whispered to us, she immediately creates a safe space, saying you shouldn’t be afraid to cry in front of me, wishing us peace from our own distortions. Within this world the artist has cast herself as an ear for the woes of others. Compared to the borderline narcissistic introspection in much of modern music this is a welcome lyrical approach.
It helps that Parks has a keen eye for specific detail and storytelling. Hurt looks closely at the world around her and reminds us ‘it won’t hurt so much forever’. What might sound youthfully naive to some or a trite soundbite to others is transformed into a quietly powerful mantra through her soft, comforting voice and laid back musical style.
This warm and friendly feel is central to the appeal of songs like Too Good and Hope. On the latter she offers us reciprocity with a reminder that ‘we all have scars’ and ‘you’re not alone’. Compared to the sarcastic bite of British pop stars like Lily Allen or the brutal realism of Amy Winehouse these songs lack cutting edge but somehow they are better for it. Offering a hand to hold can be revolutionary in its own way.
Caroline is the heart of this album, a deftly observed piece of instamatic lyricism, observing an unraveling couple. Overheard lines offer us a mirror to our own problematic relationships.
A friend’s depression is presented as frightening and debilitating on ‘Black Dog’. By using a detached perspective she allows for her own kindness and understanding to shine.
Indeed by turning her gaze outwards Parks still tells us much about herself. We get the impression of a compassionate and strong individual. Her strength of character becomes clearer on the second half of the record. She faces the difficulties of her partner’s internalised homophobia on Green Eyes with pragmatic understanding. There is no blame or anger in any of these songs – even on Just Go the closest to condemnation she offers is a polite rebuff to a ex.
The songs which do explore the darker moments in her personal life don’t dwell in suffering or result in despair. For Violet and Eugene offer kindness, love and positivity in the face of heartbreak and unrequited love.
On the final song she vows to make ‘rainbows’ out of pain. A glimpse of colour among the gloom is exactly what ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’ offers. Arlo Parks is only twenty years old and on this evidence her voice will be a guiding light for many years to come.