Arlo Parks is not the voice of her generation…or so she argues whenever the question is put to her. But the voice of the modest 20 year-old has already become recognisable on radios across the globe and with the release of her debut album – ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’ – she gives her audience adolescent angst by the bucket load.
The tracks on the album melt into each other, with strong jazz and RnB vibes throughout; most are slow in tempo, underscored with jangly strings and synths. Just as you’re lulled into a dreamlike state and the music is in danger of becoming ‘samey’, the tracks ‘Green Eyes’ and ‘Just Go’ split the album in two with a sprinkling of upbeat disco and funk. She cites Erykah Badu as an influence and this shines through much of the record, the way she is able to move through different genres with ease, maintaining a smooth melody and rhythm.
Her sound and voice have a soporific quality that has earned her music the label ‘bedroom pop’, and this is where the music takes you. The silky synths, Kaytranada-esque breakbeats and mellow vocals on tracks like ‘Bluish’ make you feel as if you’re listening to slow jams under the sheets. Which is exactly where many of us found ourselves for the majority of 2020, workdays and Friday nights spent within the comfort of our bedrooms.
Perhaps this is why the record resonates so much at the moment, and not just with Gen-Z but with anyone who has experienced the themes the tracks address, anyone who had moments from last year where they felt down or remembers periods of struggle from their youth. Parks is the onlooker, the best friend, implementing story-telling and poetry to paint a picture of her experiences, 12 vignettes straight out of her adolescence. In the song ‘Eugene’ she expresses unrequited love for a close friend growing up, and the pain she felt when she sees her friend fall for a boy she doesn’t like.
‘Seein’ you with him burns, I feel it deep in my throat, you put your hands in his shirt, you play him records I showed you’
We’ve all been there. The lyrics of her songs are both hyper-specific to her experiences but at the same time universal.
However, the album evokes more than just childhood nostalgia; ‘Black Dog’ the album’s second and most successful single, describes the crushing effect of depression on a friend of Parks’. The lyrics are simple and short, but their frankness gives the listener an idea of the hopelessness of mental health. The fourth track on the album, ‘Hope’ covers similar themes and again Parks is the best friend, both terrified and reassuring.
‘You’re not alone like you think you are’.
There is something raw and revealing about Arlo Parks’ music that is similar to the song-writing of Amy Winehouse; it isn’t the issues that they sing about, be it drugs and alcohol or mental health, that makes their music interesting but the ability to lay themselves bare and infuse humanity into their music.
The name – ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’ – is apt. It perfectly captures the mood of the album, it’s how you imagine Parks after she’s sung her way through all the tracks, drained from the emotional rollercoaster, drenched in dreamy, hazy melodies, collapsed in sunbeams.