By Kate Wassell
Photo: Jenn Five, DIY Magazine
Arlo Parks has risen fast since her intimate set of shows last spring. Then, the fans that knew her knew her well: they recited every word of her singles and scattered releases and clung onto every syllable of her refreshing spoken word poetry that she performed at her gigs. Now, 20-year-old, self-named Arlo Parks has released her debut ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’ to critical acclaim, and has already received attention from some of the most loved songwriters of the moment, from Loyle Carner to Adrianne Lenker to Phoebe Bridgers. Over lockdown Parks’ Instagram, a place she often shares her poetry and favourite music, has become a refuge for long-term fans and newcomers alike.
‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’ is Parks’ first amalgamation of all of this into one space. The album is about grief and about light, and sometimes about both at once. We’ve heard some of the tracks before, like the addictive early 2020 single ‘Eugene’, where Parks lays bare her unrequited, queer love, and the mournful yet affirming ‘Black Dog’ was a mid-year favourite, named ‘the year’s most devastating song’.
But these never-heard-before tracks are just as compelling. The album begins with barely a note before Parks’ clear, homely voice cuts in: ‘Collapsed in sunbeams, stretched out open to beauty, however brief or violent’. The fleeting opening track feels like she’s inviting us into the album, telling each of us frankly, ‘you shouldn’t be afraid to cry in front of me’.
Parks is seeing everything through colour: she paints her days of sadness with blue and bedroom walls green, and the way to get her struggling friend out of bed is to buy fresh fruit from the shops. Like she sings on the final ‘Portra 400’, she’s always ‘making rainbows out of something painful’. Parks is spectacularly good at putting herself into another set of shoes, putting her empathy into characters like Charlie in ‘Hurt’. Jumping between the bright, poppy ‘Just Go’ and the dark and crackling soundscapes of ‘For Violet’, this is definitely not an album that can be defined to one mood.
‘Hope’ is a highlight-- especially Parks vulnerable, low-spoken interlude, while the intriguing ‘Caroline’ follows, with its regretful, pulsing chorus. In ‘Blueish’ Parks is more brazen than ever, dipping her toe into a more electronic sound. Her enchanting low vocals echo in the background of her adamant announcement, ‘when I say I need some space I shouldn’t have to ask you twice’. We get the same defiance on ‘Too Good’ and the ‘Just Go’ - Arlo Parks is done taking shit from anyone.
Arlo Parks has always been honest - a breath of West London fresh air. But on ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’, she’s more shamelessly captured the ups and downs of life, from small wonders and everyday joys to candid weariness of surviving each day. She’s bottled her flourishing sound, while never holding herself down to any one thing. Parks is intent on showing any range of emotions under the sun and she, just like all of us, is ‘still learning to be open about this’. So far, she seems to be succeeding.