An old soul with a poetic heart
Philip Giouras
10:12 25th January 2021

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Collapsed In Sunbeams opens with a title track in the form of a poem. It focuses on the minute details of everyday life, those little signs of affection between friends in younger years, and both the physical and mental change undertaken as a teenager transitioning into adulthood. It’s fair to say everyone one of us goes through life with a different perspective, but Arlo Parks manages to pinpoint the universal feelings we share in our experiences. Expressing them in just a few sentences, she’s an old soul with a poetic heart who possesses the ability to empathise and strike an emotional chord with you in just a few syllables. 

Parks’ personal experiences, observations, and unique worldviews shaped the stories of the record. A domestic argument on London’s Oxford Street that most of us would pass by becomes the basis of the striking ‘Caroline’. Parks notes every single detail, the man’s strawberry cheeks flushed with defeated rage, his pleas become the chorus, as rhythmic percussion slowly escalates to match the frantic situation before Park’s eyes. As well as magnifying the world around her, Parks isn’t afraid to tackle her own challenging experiences. ‘Black Dog’ is an incredibly powerful song in which she explores her feelings of desperation and dismay at being unable to help a close friend escape from the symbolistic black dog of depression. "I would do anything to get you out your room" she appeals on the chorus. 

‘Eugene’ depicts the desolating feeling of unrequited love between Parks and her best friend; who to her anguish has a boyfriend. The track is a perfect example of one of Parks’ most striking qualities; how she changes her vocal delivery to match the scenarios within her stories. She tenderly whispers the verses addressed to her crush, her deep affection audible, especially in contrast to the bitter delivery of the spoken words describing the titular boyfriend Eugene.

‘Green Eyes’ meanwhile recalls a summer love with a girlfriend short-lived by judgemental "folks who wanna make you cry" and unkind parents disapproving of their daughter’s sexuality and relationship with Parks. At the heart of the track and the album as a whole though is hope. Parks implores her girlfriend to trust in herself and shine; the melody is sweet like the sunny months she describes. Despite at times dark subject material, brightness and hope exudes frequently throughout the record. ‘Just Go’ slides along with a tropical guitar riff, ‘Hope’ with its jazz styled swing to its melody and the overwhelming message of optimism that “You’re not alone”. ‘Too Good’ meanwhile has a hip hop beat that Parks bounces each word off, flowing through playful lyrical couplets like “You quote Thom Yorke and lean in for a quick kiss, but still you just won’t admit that you like me”.

The record effortlessly blends together a mix of Jazz, R&B, and acoustic sounds and styles. Reminiscent of last year’s incredible self-titled record by Lianne La Havas, most noticeably on more experimental and unconventional tracks such as ‘Bluish’ and ‘Porta 400’ with their electronic flourishes. Parks’ youthful and witty observations meanwhile transport me to the first time I heard Lily Allen sing about little old ladies and their bags from Tesco.

Whilst Parks frequently invokes soulful legends and contemporaries with her sound, she is undoubtedly setting a path of her own with her incredible lyricism; a beautiful combination of performance, poetry, and emotion that stops you in your tracks. With her tracks full of wisdom and intricate literature references it’s sometimes easy to forget that Arlo Parks is still only 20 with a whole career ahead of her. Collapsed In Sunbeams is a remarkable opening chapter. 

Collapsed In Sunbeams arrives 29 January via Transgressive Records.

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Photo: Press