It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Arlo Parks has seen her career take off at speed – since making her bow with the Super Sad Generation EP in April of 2019, the London-based poet and singer-songwriter has made some serious waves with her engaging and beguiling style. Her debut album is upon us not even two years later. She clearly knows to strike when the iron is hot, and Collapsed in Sunbeams is a product of that go-getter spirit.
It’s a lush, unashamedly big-sounding record that’s come a long way from its bedroom-pop genesis, brought to life courtesy of producer Gianluca Buccellati has also worked with the likes of Tei Shi, Tender & Hazel English, and co-wrote the album with Parks. It crackles with vitality even at its most restrained, and resonates at its most intimate. “Green Eyes” features guitar and backing vocals from Clairo, and is an example of the album at its grooviest, as Parks tackles a same-sex relationship amid societal and parental disapproval: “Of course I know why we lasted two months / Couldn’t hold my hand in public, felt their eyes judging our love and begging for blood.”
There, as elsewhere, Parks leaves no stone unturned in her pursuit of honesty. The album’s brief title track opens proceedings with a scene-setting poem that hints at that direct lyrical approach (“We are all learning to trust our bodies / Making peace with our own distortions / You shouldn’t be afraid to cry in front of me”) while setting up links with later spoken-word sections, such as on the breathtaking, jazz-tinged “Hope”, where Parks keeps herself in check despite the emotional intelligence displayed throughout the record: “I cannot communicate the depth of the feeling / The truth is I’m still learning to be open about this.” It’s an uplifting, reassuring highlight that speaks to us all – “you’re not alone like you think you are.”
In a similar manner, “Black Dog” considers mental ill health, and specifically depression, from an outsider’s perspective – Parks isn’t the subject of the song, instead a conduit for comfort, as she offers support to a friend. On an album full of beautiful, affecting moments, it arguably hits the hardest. “It’s so cruel what your mind can do for no reason” she observes her empathy on full display. Her lyrics are rich and evocative, whether she’s privy to a domestic dispute on a crowded Oxford Street (“Caroline”), detailing unrequited love (“Eugene”) or, as on the hip-hop-infused “Too Good”, dealing with the affections of someone reluctant to put them into words.
Simultaneously universal and hyperspecific in its narratives, her debut album is brimming with character and verve, unafraid to confront dark subject matter and ‘make rainbows out of something painful’, to quote closing track “Portra 400”. Throughout, Parks uses her distinctive musical and lyrical perspective and powerful vocal delivery to reveal who she truly is. Collapsed in Sunbeams is a deeply personal record, but its creator welcomes listeners into her world to indulge in its poetry. It doesn’t look like she’ll be slowing down any time soon.