“I did have a period of time where I allowed myself, almost, to grieve for the year,” Arlo Parks revealed in the BBC Radio One mini-documentary capturing the creation of her debut album, “I would have had, especially as an emerging artist, I had that fear that I’d be forgotten.”
Arlo Parks, a 20-year-old poet/songwriter/singer, went into 2020 with high expectations. Having just been awarded BBC Introducing’s Sound of 2020 award, she had a tour of Europe booked for the spring and a summer of festivals to look forward to. She’d begun sketching the early ideas for tracks for a project, but the idea of recording was very much put on the backburner for the time being. She was determined to capitalise on her increased popularity and spend the year playing to thousands of fans across the world.
Then the world collapsed, and Parks was left with nothing to focus on, nowhere to go. So she wrote, and now, 10 months later, between recording collaborations with Phoebe Bridgers and chatting with music superstars such as Billie Eilish, her debut album ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’ has arrived; 12 tracks documenting the life of a someone taking their early steps into adulthood and coping with the pressure and emotional stress of battling on, unsure of what is to come in the future.
Parks first came to prominence as a poet, and throughout her young career, it’s her lyrical dexterity that has taken centre stage. It’s fitting then, that her album begins with a short poem, detailing her ideal life and where Parks hopes to find herself in the future, describing love and a sense of safety within a relationship. In a sense, it sets a scene for the project, allowing the tracks that follow to act as a reflection or a life once lived, grounded deep in the past.
“You shouldn’t be afraid to cry in front of me,” she says, as though preparing another to reveal their life’s woes. “I promise,” she adds, as her vocals fade into the distance.
From there, the album takes us through the twists and turns of broken relationships, broken friendships, and at one particularly poignant moment, broken friends. The instrumentation throughout the album is minimal with live drums and piano guiding the album, alongside a blend of acoustic guitars and layered vocals.
Tracks such as Hurt and Bluish focus on the temporality of pain and frustration, whilst Green Eyes dissects the difficulties of acceptance within a same-sex relationship with lyrics such as ‘Could not hold my hand in public / felt their eyes judging our love’, cutting particularly deeply.
It’s during some of the more subdued moments, however, that the album truly thrives. Black Dogs, a track detailing the debilitating feeling of watching a loved one struggle with their mental health, is beautiful to the extreme and is one of the few pop songs of the modern era addressing an outside view of depression, and the helplessness one feels watching another struggle.
“It’s so cruel what your mind can do for no reason,” Parks sings, as her vocals float mesmerizingly above the sense of anguish and pain. A similar feeling is captured on the track For Violet, one of the better tracks not to have been released in the build-up to the album that recalls asking for patience as a loved one deals with a difficult home-life when visiting from college.
The chorus is breathtaking, and alongside Black Dogs provide the best sense of the emotional power that Park’s lyrics possess.
While the more emotional tracks may be the highlights, the more upbeat numbers in the collection provide a nice variety throughout the project. Tracks such as Just Go, Hope and Bluish are soaked with style and class, as Park’s brand of jazz-infused soul continues to impress and is sure to sit well within a live set, whenever that may be.
As a whole, the album is an impressive debut from one of the UK’s most remarkable talents. Like the life it describes, it ebbs and flows, taking in the heights of euphoria whilst simultaneously wallowing in the lows of hardship. There are few young artists today as well-rounded and articulate as Arlo Parks, making her work all the more enchanting.